Jürgen Schadeberg was a German-born South African photographer and artist. He photographed key moments in South African history, including iconic photographs such as Nelson Mandela at Robben Island prison. He also lived, worked and taught in London and Spain, and photographed in many African countries.
Jürgen Schadeberg was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1931 where he grew up during the Nazi regime and World War II. In the aftermath of the war, his mother began a relationship with a British officer in the army of occupation and emigrated with him to South Africa in 1947. Schadeberg learned to be a photographer at the Deutsche Presseagentur
(German Press Agency). He moved to South Africa to rejoin his family in 1950 and, the following year, found employment on Drum
magazine as an official photographer and layout artist.
Schadeberg became the senior figure of the group and a teacher and mentor to some of the most creative South African photographers of his time, including Bob Gosani
, Ernest Cole
, and later Peter Magubane
. As one of the few white photographers who photographed daily life among the black community, he became knowledgeable about black life and culture. As a result, he captured on film the beginnings of the freedom movement, the effects of apartheid, and the vibrancy of township life. Schadeberg photographed many historic and pivotal events in the 1950s among them the Defiance Campaign of 1952, the 1956 Treason Trial, the Sophiatown removals of 1955, the Sophiatown jazz and social scene, the Sharpeville funeral of 1960, and pictures of Robben Island inmates. Some of the famous people he photographed include Nelson Mandela
, Walter Sisulu
, Oliver Tambo
, Trevor Huddleston
, and Govan Mbeki
. He also documented 1950s jazz legends such as Thandi Klaasen
, Hugh Masekela
, Kippie Moeketsi
and Miriam Makeba
. He made documentation of everyday life. When Drum wanted the singer Dolly Rathebe
to be the cover girl for one of their issues, Schadeberg took her to a Johannesburg mine dump and photographed her in a bikini. The two were arrested for contravening the Immorality Act which forbade interracial relationships.
In 1959, Schadeberg left Drum
to become a freelancer. He was part of an expedition led by Professor Phillip V. Tobias from the University of the Witwatersrand to study the Bushmen, publishing images in The Kalahari Bushmen Dance
Schadeberg felt forced by increasing civil unrest to leave South Africa, and in 1964 went to London, where he was picture editor of Camera Owner
magazine (forerunner of Creative Camera), into which he incorporated a stronger sense of design and increased its pictorial content, and from April to July 1965 he was its editor. He also taught and curated photographic exhibitions in England, notably for the Whitechapel Art Gallery. He then moved to Spain where he focused on a career as an artist. In 1972, he returned to Africa where he accepted a position as a photographer for Christian Aid
in Botswana and Tanzania. In 1973 he traveled to Senegal, Mali, Kenya, and Zaire, taking photographs.
In 1985, Schadeberg returned to South Africa, where he lived with his wife Claudia. He continued to work as a photojournalist, and also made documentaries about the black community until 2007 when he returned to Europe.
Schadeberg died from a stroke at his home in La Drova [ca], Valencia, Spain, on 29 August 2020, aged 89.
His work is held in the collections of the UK Arts Council, National Portrait Gallery
and the Victoria and Albert Museum
Jurgen has edited and published over 30 photographic books including The Finest Photos from the Old Drum
, The Fifties People of South Africa
, Mandela & The Rise of the ANC
, Voices from Robben Island
, Sof’town Blues
, The Black & White Fifties
, The San of the Kalahari
& Soweto Today
2002, Witness - 52 years of pointing lenses at Life
2004, Voices from the Land
2006. Jazz, Swing & Blues – 56 years of SA Jazz
and Tales from Jozi
2007– Six decades of documentary photography in Europe, Africa and America
published by Hatje Cantz 2008, Great Britain 1964/84
, 2011 Jurgen Schadeberg visits Germany – 6 decades
2012, and Six decades of South African Photography
Together with his producer wife Claudia, Jurgen established The Schadeberg Movie Company
to produce a series of some 15 documentaries and dramas about South African social, cultural and political history.
Jurgen Schadeberg, sometimes known as “The Father of South African Photography”
, is a principle figure in South African and World Photography. His major body of work, which spans 70 years and incorporates a collection of some 200,000 negatives, captures a wealth of timeless and iconic images.