Jurgen Schadeberg was born in Berlin, Germany on 18 March 1931. He was raised by his mother, Rosemarie, the only child in a single-parent family of limited means. He studied at the School of Optic and Photechnic in Berlin and worked as an apprentice for the German Press Agency for two years.
In 1950, at the age of 19, he moved to South Africa to join his mother and stepfather. In September 1951 he joined Drum magazine as their official photographer and layout artist. After joining Drum magazine, he met a South African actor called Etricia, whom he married. They had four children before divorcing in the early 1960s. He had a brief second marriage to a Portuguese woman whom he did not identify by name in his memoir. He married his third wife, Claudia (Horvath) Schadeberg, an art historian and television producer, in 1984.
His first employment in South Africa, however, was with a developing and printing company, printing amateur pictures. This was followed by a position at a studio photographing families.
Generous with his time and advice, Schadeberg became a teacher and mentor to some of the most creative South African photographers of his time, such as Henry Nxumalo, Bob Gosane, Earnest Cole, Ian Berry and John Brett Cohen. He was acknowledged as a leading photographer and teacher, who was open and knowledgeable about black life and culture.
By the mid-1950s Drum had grown as a publication and had attracted some innovative and talented writers. However, in 1959 Schadeberg left Drum, after a personal dispute with Anthony Sampson, the editor, who later became former President Nelson Mandela’s biographer, to pursue a career as a freelancer. In July of the same year, he joined an expedition led by Professor Phillip V. Tobias, the Chair of the Kalahari Research Committee of the University of the Witwatersrand, to study the San (Bushmen). He published these images in the book The Kalahari Bushmen Dance in 1982.
In 1964, Schadeberg moved to London to become the editor of Camera Owner, a magazine that later became Creative Camera. His editorship lasted for a year, after which he became a contributor to the Sunday supplements. On leaving London, he went to Spain to pursue a career as an artist. In 1972, he returned to Africa when he accepted a position as photographer for Christian Aid in Botswana and Tanzania. In 1973 he travelled from Senegal and Mali to Kenya and Zaire to take photographs.
In the same year, he returned to London where he directed the exhibition "Inside White Chapel" with professionals such as Ron McCormick, Leonard Freed, Charles Marriott and Chris Schwarts. He also returned to teaching and took up a post at the Central School of Art and Design in London.
In 1976, in conjunction with some of his students, he produced an exhibition called "Quality of Life", which coincided with the opening of the new London National Theatre complex. During the preparation for the exhibition, Schadeberg and his students lived in a warehouse near London Bridge. The group was very international and their images came from all over the world.
Schadeberg worked in Britain, Spain, Africa, the United States of America, Germany and France before returning to live in South Africa in 1985. At this time, Schadeberg embarked on a yearlong project to catalog the archives of Drum magazine, which he had found three years earlier on a farm owned by Drum’s former owner, Jim Bailey. The archive later led to acrimonious disputes and lasting feuds over copyright and royalty payments. Schadeberg and his wife focused on producing books based on the Drum archive and documentaries, South Africa was changing drastically. Protesters on the streets of segregated Black townships clamored for change and for the release of Nelson Mandela, which finally came in 1990.
His most striking images from that period include photographs showing the demolition of slums known as the Gorbals in Glasgow, Scotland.
In 1994, Schadeberg and his wife attained their South African citizenship.
After teaching a course at the New School, New York, he returned to freelance work for English and German magazines. In 1996, a retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the South African National Gallery in Johannesburg.
In 2007, he and his wife left South Africa and went to live in northern France, then Berlin, then Spain.
In 2017, Schadeberg's memoir The Way I See It: A Memoir was published. His body of work, which spans more than 70 years and incorporates a collection of some 200 000 negatives, captures a wealth of timeless and iconic images that have been widely exhibited and showcased.
On Saturday, 29 August 2020, Schadeberg passed away at his home in La Drova, Spain, due to stroke-related issues.
Schadeberg is survived by his wife, Claudia, their son, Charlie; his children from previous relationships, Wolfgang, Martine, Frankie, Bonnie and Leon; 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
- Jürgen Schadeberg. about Jürgen [Online]. Available at: jurgenschadeberg.com [Accessed 03 March 2009]|Personal Contribution by Claudia Schadeberg (wife)
- C. Allan, Jürgen Schadeberg, Whose Photos Chronicled Apartheid, Dies at 89, August 30 2020 [Online]. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/30/obituaries/jurgen-schadeberg-dead.html [Accessed 31 August 2020]