Seven Decades of Jurgen Schadeberg

8th Nov 2012

Jurgen Schadeberg

“I jumped from one extreme to another on a regular basis,” German documentary photographer Jurgen Schadeberg says of his time shooting South Africa’s Apartheid system. “One day I might photograph an ANC meeting with Nelson Mandela and other political anti-Apartheid activists, and in the same day, a white cocktail party honouring a white Apartheid politician.” 

Schadeberg is no ordinary photojournalist. With a career spanning seven decades, his works document some of history’s most radical transitions. 

Jurgen Schadeberg Book Cover

From his early days photographing World War II in Germany to more than sixty years shedding light on South Africa’s Apartheid and revolution, Schadeberg’s work is legendary.

The Sony World Photography Awards Academy Member has been hailed as “The Father of South African Photography” and is master of his craft. In 2013, Schadeberg is set to release two new books. One, an autobiography, will focus on the realities of life in South Africa during the 1950s; the second, shooting now, builds off his photography in Spain from 1969-71.

Jurgen Schadeberg - Berlin

Image Credit: Jurgen Schadeberg, 1942, Berlin Air-raid Shelter

Schadeberg shared with WPO that his upcoming autobiography starts as an 11-year-old in a Berlin air-raid shelter. Growing up in Nazi Germany during World War II, Schadeberg began honing his craft by taking a photo of his neighbours in that shelter. He continued to document wartime Germany throughout his teenage years with the German Press Agency. His autobiography reflects on “the utter chaos and turmoil of the war years when the Nazi regime attempted to indoctrinate the whole population, especially the youth.”

Unhappy in Germany’s post-war years, Schadeberg moved to South Africa in 1950.  “On my arrival at aged 19 in South Africa,” Schadeberg recalls, “I suddenly realised that I was jumping from the frying pan into the fire as my arrival coincided with the birth of Apartheid.”

Jurgen Schadeberg

With no history of documentary photography in South Africa at the time, Schadeberg worked to become the sole eye spotlighting the country’s social and political transitions. The years he spent as a freelancer in the 1950s for Drum Magazine were his most memorable. “I daily crossed from one world to another,” he says, “where the black and white worlds were almost totally isolated from each other with no social, cultural and political contact.”

Jurgen and Mandela

A pioneer for human rights and social issues photography, Schadeberg endured no shortage of harassment by the South African security police. He was arrested in 1958 for attempting to protect one of Drum Magazine’s black photographers from the police. His constant hounding by the police eventually led to enforced exile in 1964.  “The other perennial problem,” he shares, “was how to make ends meet throughout my career, as only a very small minority of people had an interest in supporting documentary photography.”

rise and fall of apartheid

The upcoming autobiography particularly focuses on his observations of life in 1950s South Africa.  As one of the only remaining witnesses of the era, he recounts with humour and clarity many bittersweet memories of the ironies of the day and his time working for Drum Magazine. It also features many previously unpublished works.

In February, 30 of Schadeberg’s images from the 1950s will be exhibited in the Munich Haus Der Kunst. The museum will also screen three of his South African documentaries. Schadeberg will be present to speak at the exhibition’s opening on 15th February.

Jurgen Schadeberg


November 2012

Author: Kaley Sweeney

All images courtesy of Jurgen Shadeberg

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