Interview

with Jürgen Schadeberg

Jürgen Schadeberg

Jürgen Schadeberg
One of the best-known photographers in South Africa since the 1950s.

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Jürgen Schadeberg

Jürgen Schadeberg

out of print
ISBN 978-3-7757-2150-9
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"Showing what people haven't seen."

The Photographer Jürgen Schadeberg talks about his Life and Work.

You're considered one of South Africa's most famous photographers. What brought you to that country?

I was nineteen and wanted to see the world. I grew up in Berlin and had only ever been on holiday to Thuringia to see my grandparents.

Wouldn't New York or Paris have seemed more tempting?

My mother emigrated in 1947. I was still studying in Hamburg, was a member of the Deutsche Presseagentur until 1950, and then I also left for South Africa. But it's true, I'd rather have gone to New York.

You started out as an agency photographer. Where are the differences between journalistic, documentary, and artistic photography?

Photojournalism is something more than documentary photography. In the nineteen fifties we talked about the "concerned photographer", the photographer who worries about the state of the world. You leave behind pure journalism and tell a story. For example, I made a book about the situation of farmers in South Africa. When you do something like that, it starts out as documentary, but then you get deeper into it and it becomes human. A kind of magic comes out of it.

Can photography change things?

A lot of things came out of my exhibition about the situation of farmers. A man who owned a golf course saw it - and right away invested a couple of million to build new houses for his workers and create playgrounds for their children. I heard about many instances like that, so being able to see how people actually lived did have a big effect.

So you want to show things that people otherwise wouldn't see?

Back in 1964 I photographed Oxford Circus. Twenty years later an illustrated magazine sent me back there, but it was a completely different world; the people looked quite different, their body language, how they moved. I noticed the same thing in Johannesburg. Over the last fifty years it has completely changed. It used to be a city that was completely white and had nothing to do with Africa. In the last fifteen years it has become an African city. But when we're living constantly in one place we don't notice these kinds of things.

Are you still taking photographs with your good old Leica?

It isn't a good old Leica any more, it's a digital camera. I do both: color in digital and black and white in film. I have my dark room and print in black and white, and do my color pictures on the computer, which certainly isn't any easier. If you want to do things well, it takes longer and costs more. But what it all comes down to in the end is the moment you choose.

You generally work around themes.

Yes, but I've always got the camera with me. You see something, a moment that's interesting, important, or funny. But when I'm working on a theme, I carry two more extra cameras, and then I'm looking for pictures twelve hours a day for weeks on end. Afterwards I select the pictures and assemble them.

What happens to the rest of them?

I keep them all. I've got over 100,000 negatives. That's one disadvantage of digital photography, that you have to save them somewhere. What's good about negatives is that they continue to exist physically and that one can look at them.

You seem to be very productive.

Well, what else am I going to do? I do a bit of gardening, read a book, watch a film.

In the meantime you've moved back to France. Where do you actually consider home?

Wherever I am. I feel very much at home in France. I also feel at home in South Africa, but in the last ten years things have changed there a lot, and I've found myself drawn back to Europe. In the meantime there is just as much Apartheid as there used to be, only the other way round. Now the blacks are doing the same thing that the whites were doing before. I found it very depressing. You'd have to start from the beginning again, but I'm not eighteen any more and I can't do that.

What do you have planned next?

At the end of the seventies I was living in Germany and I travelled a lot by car. Last year I was back in Germany and Italy - but it was crazy, today there are just more and more trucks. The main roads are congested, civilization is going to have a heart attack. No one can see it. Or they see it, but they don't do anything. That's why I'd like to do something. That's one of photography's strengths, to show things that people haven't yet seen. That's art.

May 19, 2008

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