Photographer Jurgen Schadeberg has vivid memories of Joburg in the 1950s. He remembers walking in downtown Joburg when, turning around, he noticed he was being followed by some tsotsis. He approached several black policemen (who were unarmed until the 1980s), who, when they spotted the tsotsis, starting running. Schadeberg had no option but to run himself, whereupon the tsotsis started chasing both him and the policemen.
He’d originally come to Johannesburg in 1950, at the age of 19. He freelanced for Drum magazine as a photographer, capturing in simple black and white film immortal images of Joburgers and, in many cases, their struggle for existence under apartheid.
His photographs of Joburg in the 50s include the defiance campaign of 1952, the 1956 Treason Trial, Sophiatown removals in 1958, the 1960 Sharpeville funeral, Nelson Mandela, as well as 50s jazz legends like Dolly Rathebe, Miriam Makeba, Kippie Moeketsi, Thandi Klaasens and Dorothy Masuka.
He’s held over 25 solo exhibitions, a dozen group exhibitions, published a dozen photographic books, including The Black and White Fifties (2002), Soweto Today (2002), and The Finest Photos from the Old Drum (1987), as well as books on the history of the ANC, Robben Island and the San of the Kalahari.
The Schadeberg Movie Company has produced 15 documentaries and dramas since 1987, also documenting a history of the country, in particular aspects of Johannesburg’s history. Examples are Dolly and the Inkspots (1994), and Jo’burg Cocktail (1995).
His latest exhibition, in February this year, was a collection of black and white photographs of Kliptown and its inhabitants, at the Absa Gallery in downtown Joburg.
He left South Africa in 1964, and continued working as a photographer overseas. But in 1984 he began to sense that it was time to come back to South Africa. While in Hillbrow in that year he spotted two policemen, one black, the other white, smoking and chatting, something that in decades past was unheard of.
He returned in 1985 after being away for 21 years in Europe and the US, and was glad to be back.
I visit Schadeberg at his home in Blairgowrie, a middle class suburb in the northern suburbs of the city. He’s dressed in faded blue jeans and beige shirt, with comfortable brown veldskoens. He’s slim, of medium height, with short, grey, receding hair. His smile transforms his normally serious face.
He shows me through his studio, darkroom and office, rooms he’s added on to his house. The walls are full of his wonderful black and white framed pictures. There are overfull bookcases and cabinets jampacked with carefully labelled files of negatives – over 100 000 of them, he estimates.
He offers tea or coffee, then invites me to come into the kitchen while he makes it. We settle in the lounge, in comfortable, unpretentious chairs in creative surroundings. He shuts his over-friendly Alsation and cross terrier/Jack Russell outside.
Schadeberg’s mother had been an actress in Berlin and he’d mixed with her friends: artists, musicians, and intellectuals. The company he kept in Sophiatown in the 1950s wasn’t too different: extraordinary writers like Bloke Modisane, Todd Matshikiza, Nat Nakasa, Lewis Nkosi, Eskia Mphahlele and Can Themba.
Schadeberg describes them as “sophisticated” and “citizens of the world” who talked philosophy and quoted Shakespeare, all educated at missionary schools before Bantu education took hold.
It had been hard in the late 1940s to leave Germany and settle elsewhere. “Germans were unpopular for many years after the war.” (He says he knew about the concentration camps – “When adults said they didn’t know, I was surprised and thought they must be lying.”) But his mother had married an Englishman and moved to South Africa in 1947, paving the way for his entry.
Schadeberg grew up in Berlin. He left school at the age of 15, and started work as a trainee photographer, with the German Press Agency. It was an unpaid job and over weekends he worked as a sports photographer.
In fact his early photographic existence was characterised by moonlighting to supplement his income. Photography, he says, has always been a profession that doesn’t earn big money. When asked what gives him most satisfaction these days, he says it’s the ability to be able to pay the bills.
At points in his career he had to sell his cameras to simply live. In London he slept in his car for two weeks.
Photographer on Drum
Working on Drum, a magazine that focused on what life was really like for blacks and not the superficial view that the apartheid government wanted widely broadcast, he came to the notice of the security police. He was harassed by the Special Branch.
”I was threatened a few times by individuals in the Special Branch, I couldn’t continue working,” he says.
He left for England in 1964, and worked for various publications – the London Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Observer, The London Illustrated News, also Die Zeit in Hamburg, Germany. He also worked in New York, teaching young photographers. He spent three and a half years in Spain, trying his hand at painting (he held three exhibitions of his art in Europe in 1969 and 1970).
Negatives at Drum
He left behind his negatives at the Drum offices when he left for Europe, the ones for Drum and others from freelance work for other publications like Time and Life magazines. He admits it wasn’t a good idea but when you’re young and busy and don’t have a place to store your growing collection of negatives, it’s easy to leave them at a safe place.
Although he has a vast collection of negatives carefully stored at his home, he has struggled over the years to get his Drum negatives back.
They are in the Bailey Archives, the property of the wealthy Bailey family. Jim Bailey was the second owner of Drum. Bailey and Schadeberg have banged heads several times on Bailey’s use of the negatives in either books or other publications or exhibitions. Schadeberg believes that hundreds of his negatives are being abused - when they are used, often the date and caption are incorrect, and the Baileys claim to not know who the photographer was.
According to Schadeberg, in the 1950s the newspaper owner had copyright of the pictures, to use them only in the newspaper, nowhere else. In the 1960s that position changed – the photographer obtained copyright of his pictures. Newspaper editors might disagree with this. “The original law at the time was unfair,” Schadeberg insists.
Schadeberg has taken Bailey to court, and wanted to pursue the issue in the Constitutional Court, but it never happened. Bailey has taken Schadeberg to court. They settled out of court, with Bailey paying Schadeberg’s legal costs but retaining the negatives.
Other photographers like Bob Gosani have tried over the years to retrieve their negatives from the Bailey Archives, to no avail.
The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg used nine of his pictures, obtained from the Bailey Archives, with the wrong date and caption, Schadeberg says. He’s subsequently had the errors corrected, and himself acknowledged as the photographer. The Constitutional Court also has a photograph of Schadeberg’s on its walls, obtained from the archives.
He says: “These negatives are archives for the nation.”
Still to do
I ask him if there’s anything he stills wants to do in photography.
He says: “I wish I could be in a position to do photography continuously.” He’s been working with his wife, Claudia, for the past 20 years, making films.
He’s been teaching photography for over 50 years, teaching all over the world. His wife says he’s a natural teacher. One of his protégés was Peter Magubane, one of the country’s respected photographers. He continues teaching – he’s got four “snappers” under his wing at the moment.
These activities take him away from his own photographic development.
”When I start up again I have to go back a stage, it can sometimes be frustrating.”
He is preparing for an exhibition in mid-year. He hopes to capture the new post-1994 generation enjoying the benefits denied to them previously. He shows me a picture of three young girls running on a beach, happiness evident in their beaming smiles and high jumps in the air.
He’s also working on a project with the Buskaid Soweto String Orchestra, capturing beautiful images of the young musicians leaning with their hearts into their instruments.
The images are clear and uncluttered, their simplicity the secret of their brilliance. Schadeberg doesn’t have much time for photography, art and literature that has to contain an explanation.
”I am documenting life, I don’t’ see myself in that elitist thing of explaining your art,” he scoffs.
At 72 he’s got no plans for retiring. I ask him how he manages to stay so youthful-looking. He says: “I don’t need a workout. When you’re in the field and in the darkroom, that’s plenty of exercise.” Gesturing with his arms, showing the darkroom actions.
“There’s only three professions that can remain working into their 90s: philosophers, conductors, and photographers.” He smiles triumphantly.
In 1950 Robert Crisp and Jim Bailey, son of Sir Abe Bailey, a wealthy Randlord and popular sportsman, started African Drum, later known as Drum, and by 1951 Bailey became the sole owner of the magazine. He employed two editors, Anthony Sampson and Tom Hopkinson, and Jurgen Schadeberg as photographer. Schadeberg at first worked with journalist Henry Nxumalo, and gradually other black reporters joined the team.
In the early 1950s, as African Drum, it had high literary standards. It carried fiction – poetry and short stories, and Alan Paton's Cry the beloved Country in serial form. It had an educational function: explanations on the migration into Africa, folklore, African art, farming knowledge and legal opinion. There was sport, a social page, and fashion.
Later the magazine did exposés like prison conditions for blacks, or conditions of work for black farm labourers, done by Nxumalo.
It was printed on A3 newspaper print, with a glossy cover page, usually a girl.
African Drum expanded into Africa – there was the Nigerian Drum, Ghana Drum, East African Drum and the Central African Drum. These publications no longer exist.
Drum continued the theme of its predecessor. The magazine portrayed blacks and what life was like for them at a time when the apartheid government tried to suppress news of life in townships and their rural counterparts, homelands.
By the late 50s advertising dominated the pages of the magazine, with only a small central column remaining for text.
The magazine still exists today, as a glossy A4 size publication, with a circulation of 100 000. It appeals to readers from 16 to 65 years, and carries a range of articles – lifestyle, cooking, sport, beauty, fashion, agony columns, money and legal Q&As - geared at both males and females. It’s published weekly, and is distributed in Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya.
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