In October 2017 I spent a delightful day with Jürgen and Claudia Schadeberg at their home in a village outside Valencia, Spain. I had been invited to speak at a conference in Valencia by the local archival association. Lucia Raadschelders, who was the NMF photo archivist, reminded me that the Schadebergs were living near Valencia. We decided that I could not pass the opportunity to visit them and duly sent off an email asking to visit.
Their house was located in quite a hilly area with winding roads and it took the taxi driver a couple of attempts before he finally located the house. After exchanging pleasantries, I was then given a tour of what can only be described as the highlight of my visit to Spain – to view, touch and experience Jürgen’s vast collection of photographs spanning about six decades. There were prints, negatives, cameras, light boxes and a host of equipment items both modern and old. There were photos of jazz musicians, singers, writers and anti-apartheid activists and events from the period that Jürgen worked at Drum Magazine to his later works. As I was being shown around I was generously given postcard prints of some of the photographs to bring back as Jürgen darted from one iconic image to the next. In the garden there was a huge container shed with framed photographs that had been exhibited in various galleries and museums all over the world.
We talked about politics, music, and what was happening not only in South Africa but in the world. Jürgen followed events closely and was dismayed and disappointed with the state that South Africa was in then. We talked about archiving his photographs and his videography. Jürgen and Claudia had established a movie company producing documentaries on South Africa, including Voices from Robben Island, of which I was gifted a copy. They introduced me to an intern who was coming in a few days a week to help with sorting, cataloguing and digitising his archive.
It was with great sadness that I learnt of his passing on Sunday, 30 August. Together with Peter Magubane and Alf Kumalo, who were both mentored by Jürgen, he will always be remembered as a luminary of South African photography.
On behalf of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Trustees and Staff I would like to send our sincere condolences to Claudia, his family, friends and colleagues. Another giant of South African history has fallen. We will always remember Jürgen Schadeberg with fondness as a friend of the Foundation, and for so generously allowing us the use of his Madiba photographs. Hamba Kahle Qabane. Lala ngoxolo.