Jürgen Schadeberg: My South Africa: Jazz & Politics at photokina 2014 #DasWesentliche

This series examines the photographers who are exhibiting at the Leica Galerie at photokina 2014. The focus of this year’s exhibition concept is on impressive photography from the world of music. It embraces all facets of music photography, and today we’re featuring Jürgen Schadeberg, a photographer who captures the “rawness” of the jazz musicians of 1950’s South Africa. Jürgen has won numerous awards including the 2007 Verdienst Kreuz Erste Klasse presented by the German President, the 2014 ICP Cornell Capa Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2014 Doctor Honoris Causa for Lifetime Work of Humanist Photography from Valencia University.

Jürgen Schadeberg was born in Berlin in 1931 and, while still in his teens, worked as an apprentice photographer for a German Press Agency in Hamburg. In 1950 he emigrated to South Africa and became Chief Photographer, Picture Editor and Art Director on Drum Magazine.

It was during this time that Jürgen photographed pivotal moments in the lives of South Africans in the 1950s. These photographs represent the life and struggle of South Africans during Apartheid and include important figures in South Africa’s history such as Nelson Mandela, Moroka, Walter Sisulu, Yusuf Dadoo, Huddleston and many others who have been documented at key moments such as during The Defiance Campaign of 1952, The Treason Trial of 1958, The Sophiatown Removals and the Sharpeville Funeral in 1960.

His images also capture key personalities and events in the jazz and literary world such as the Sophiatown jazz scene with Dolly Rathebe, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Kippie Moeketsi.

Q: Why did you begin photographing jazz musicians in 1950’s South Africa?

A: My first jazz photo session was in 1951 with musicians such as Kippie Moeketsi, Vi Nkosi and the Harlem Swingsters, some of whom I photographed in dingy and dilapidated makeshift dance halls in Sophiatown, the Bantu Men’s Social Centre and the industrial areas on the outskirts of Johannesburg. To my surprise at that time there were no photographers, to my knowledge, with an interest in this type of documentary photography. I personally found Township Jazz music extremely invigorating and exciting having in my youth taken an interest in the American New Orleans jazz scene such as Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. In South Africa the American jazz sound was adapted and Africanised giving it a unique South African Township flavour. Much of the fifties music became a form of defiance, a means of survival and a symbol of freedom against the Apartheid system.

The beauty of this jazz was its rawness where talented “natural” musicians, usually untrained and unable to read music, played spontaneously, creatively and vibrantly. Sadly these outstanding fifties jazz musicians had a limited audience and therefore income as it was against the law for them to play to  white audiences.

Many  musicians left South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s and became international ambassadors for the anti Apartheid movement  such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and the Manhattan Brothers while the local jazz legends, such as Dolly Rathebe and Thandi Klaasen kept the home fires burning despite difficult times.

Jazz today is one of South Africa’s most exceptional exports producing a wealth of diverse creative musical talents that can outshine any competition. SA Jazz today is pure African gold which must be carefully cherished and nurtured to retain its shine and sparkle, an asset more valuable than any mined gemstone. Jazz is food for the soul, an essential ingredient in the health, harmony and well being of a society, a priceless golden heartbeat of a nation.

Q: What image is your favorite in this gallery and why?

A: My favourite image is of Nelson Mandela’s return to his cell on Robben Island 1994. Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison emerging, without bitterness, to rescue a country from disaster and bring peace and harmony.

Q: What, if anything, do you hope the viewer sees or gains when looking at these images?

A: I hope the viewer gets a better idea of the social, cultural and political life under Apartheid in 1950’s South Africa when, despite the oppression and hardships, people found time to hope, to sing and to dance.

Thank you for your time, Jürgen!

For more information about “LEICA CAMERA – DAS WESENTLICHE” events, lectures, live Twitter chats, and book signings taking place during photokina 2014, click here

– Leica Internet Team

Ask Jürgen questions about his images and experience on Thursday, September 18, from 4-5pm CEST during our live Twitter chat with him using #LeicaChat. See the full schedule of Leica’s photokina Twitter chats here.

To view more of Jürgen’s work and learn more about his life, please visit his website. Next year, two of his books will be released: “Spain, Then and Now” and “The Europeans.” You can also see some of his images at these upcoming shows and events:

September 26, 2014 – Retrospective Show, Valencia University

November 2014 – Shows in Ulm & New York

January 2015 – Show on Osterfeld

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