Schade­berg made it look like a snap

In a book which rep­re­sents the flavour of the times, iconic pho­tog­ra­pher Jür­gen Schade­berg tells the story of his rise to fame in the pho­to­graphic business, writes Vivien Hor­ler

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - WORLD IN PICTURES -

YOU could call Jür­gen Schade­berg a bit of a name drop­per, but that would be un­fair. The fact is, he just hap­pened to know some pretty fa­mous peo­ple in the 1950s and 60s, and he took their pic­tures.

And, while you might not be fa­mil­iar with his name, you’ll recog­nise many of his pic­tures that ap­peared in

Drum mag­a­zine. The word iconic is overused, but his pic­tures – of the Sharpeville fu­ner­als, of Man­dela in his Robben Is­land prison cell, of Man­dela in his at­tor­ney’s of­fice, Hugh Masekela with the trum­pet given to him by Louis Arm­strong, and Miriam Makeba in front of a mi­cro­phone – re­ally are iconic.

The stories of how he came to take them some­times be­lie their iconic sta­tus, though, and de­scribe what sounds like an of­ten chaotic news-gath­er­ing op­er­a­tion. The pic­ture of a young Man­dela in his of­fice in Chan­cel­lor House was taken one af­ter­noon when Schade­berg ac­com­pa­nied the re­porter Ted Hughes to in­ter­view him. But Hughes had for­got­ten where he had parked his car and by the time they found it they were very late.

When they en­tered Man­dela’s of­fice he was stand­ing there with books and pa­pers under his arm, on his way out to an ap­point­ment with a client. Schade­berg says he had time to ex­pose just two frames with his Rollei­flex be­fore Man­dela left – but one of them was a win­ner.

An­other fa­mous pic­ture was of the blues queen and film star Dolly Rathebe. Schade­berg shot some pic­tures of Rathebe at Zoo Lake, but re­alised they were be­ing watched with dis­ap­proval by an el­derly white cou­ple. Then a po­lice car cruised past and pho­tog­ra­pher and model de­cided to leave.

But Schade­berg had not got his bikini shot, so they headed to a small mine dump near Kens­ing­ton and climbed to the top for a “beach” pic. Rathebe was a nat­u­ral, says Schade­berg, and amid jokes and laugh­ter the pho­tog­ra­pher shot off four rolls of film. But as they were pack­ing up, four pant­ing po­lice­men ap­peared on top of the mine dump from dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, shout­ing and seek­ing ev­i­dence of in­ter­ra­cial sex, then an of­fence under the Im­moral­ity Act.

Both were ar­rested, and the en­tire in­ci­dent re­minded Schade­berg of his youth in Nazi-dom­i­nated Ber­lin.

At the time, Drum mag­a­zine was owned by the leg­endary Jim Bai­ley and edited by the man who be­came al­most equally leg­endary, An­thony Samp­son. Nei­ther comes out par­tic­u­larly well in this book. Bai­ley, one of the rich­est men in Africa, is de­scribed as a miser who spent most of his time at the Rand Club, while Samp­son was quixotic, badtem­pered, and made at least two passes at Schade­berg.

The book is ded­i­cated to Henry Nx­u­malo – “a great and coura­geous jour­nal­ist with whom I was priv­i­leged to work”.

Nx­u­malo ex­posed slave con­di­tions on potato farms in the Bethal area, about 200km east of Joburg, by sign­ing up as an agri­cul­tural worker.

After two weeks with no word from Nx­u­malo, Schade­berg drove to Bethal and found the farm. Work­ers grubbed in the soil for pota­toes, over­seen by a “boss boy” on horse­back who cracked a whip.

Schade­berg opened the bon­net of his car, hop­ing he would look like a stranded mo­torist, while sur­rep­ti­tiously tak­ing pic­tures. Then he spot­ted Nx­u­malo, slammed down the bon­net, opened the pas­sen­ger door and waited while Nx­u­malo fled to­wards him, the “boss boy” giv­ing chase.

Nx­u­malo made it safely to the car and his sub­se­quent story in Drum of work­ing con­di­tions in Bethal was a rev­e­la­tion.

For the times, Schade­berg was an un­usual white man. His experiences as a child in Ber­lin dur­ing World War II some­how de­stroyed prej­u­dice against “the other”. He took peo­ple as he found them, re­spect­ing them for who they were, al­though he was of­ten ap­palled by the drunk­en­ness of his col­leagues at Drum. Week­ends were party times and peo­ple tended not to come to work on Mon­days, and of­ten not on Tues­days ei­ther.

Schade­berg’s mother, an ac­tress, had mar­ried a Bri­tish ser­vice­man in Ber­lin after the war, and they em­i­grated to South Africa, leav­ing a teenage Schade­berg be­hind to fend for him­self in a dev­as­tated Ger­many. He trained as a pho­tog­ra­pher while work­ing as an un­paid pho­to­graphic vol­un­teer, and a cou­ple of years later came to South Africa too.

The names of his col­leagues and sub­jects read like a Who’s Who of the times: Can Themba, Ruth First, Ernest Cole,

Trevor Hud­dle­ston, Miriam Makeba, Bloke Modis­ane, Nat Nakasa, Todd Mat­shik­iza. From be­hind his cam­era he watched as his­tory was made: the Sophi­a­town re­movals, the Women’s March of 1955, the joy of the de­fen­dants when they were ac­quit­ted after the Trea­son Trial, and the Sharpeville fu­ner­als.

The mem­oir cov­ers his boy­hood in Ber­lin dur­ing the Al­lied bomb­ing and his life work­ing and teach­ing photography in Bri­tain, Europe and Amer­ica after he left South Africa, but it is the de­scrip­tion of the Drum years that stands out.

It is well worth read­ing for a flavour of the times: full of as­ton­ish­ingly creative peo­ple, op­pres­sive, of­ten fright­en­ing but vividly alive.

For more of Hor­ler’s re­views, see her web­site The Books Page (the­bookspage. co.za).

Dolly Rathebe on a mine dump.

For­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela vis­its his old cell on Robben Is­land in 1994.

Jür­gen Schade­berg

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