Book Review: Jürgen Schadeberg: Great Britain 1964-1984

Schadeberg COVER FRONT

Born in Berlin in 1931, Jürgen Schadeberg moved to South Africa in 1950, where he spent the next 14 years of his life. As chief photographer, picture editor and art director for Drum magazine in Johannesburg, Schadeberg and the photojournalists under his tutelage were among the first to depict in print the human rights violations endured by black South Africans under the Apartheid regime.

Frequenting the nightclubs of the townships, he also captured the free-spirited jazz scene; showing the world another rarely seen side to South Africa at the time. As a mentor at Drum to the first generation of black photographers, including the photojournalist Peter Magubane, who originally worked as a driver at the magazine office, Schadeberg is often referred to as ‘The Father of South African photography’. In 1964 Schadeberg moved to London to work as a freelance photographer for newspaper supplements such as The Observer and The Sunday Times Magazine, as well as the socially-conscious New Society, which trod in the footsteps of the defunct Picture Post. At this time the supplements were competing with colour television for advertising revenue, and Schadeberg recalls photographers feeling under pressure to come back from assignments with sharp colour imagery; resulting in him walking around with boxes of filters while shooting.

This new book by German publisher Mitteldeutscher Verlag has text in German and English, and features Schadeberg’s black-and-white work from his three decades in Britain. During this time he travelled around the nation and crossed all strata of its society; often returning to a subject after his assignment to continue shooting. Unlike many of his peers, Schadeberg eschewed the Swinging London scene, choosing instead to document less glamorous subjects, such as London dockworkers cycling home after a day’s graft and Birmingham university students partying in a crammed bedsit.

At the other end of the social ladder, his images of an open day for parents at Eton and a cocktail party at City Hall provide an insight into the lives of the ruling classes at that time. Whether it’s because of Schadeberg’s own sensibilities, or those of his picture editors at the time, his lens points more often towards the less advantaged in society; and it’s here that some of the most interesting and affecting work in this book is found. Some scenarios – such as the images taken at Heathrow departure lounge – look extremely dated and comical to our eyes, while others – notably the depictions of working class families – changed little over those decades covered in the book, and leave a sombre note. Moving around the world his whole life, Schadeberg has always photographed the country he lived in as an outsider. He has said that he finds this an advantage as it keeps his eyes sharp. This is Great Britain seen through Schadeberg eyes.

There are few time worn images of the Swinging Sixties here; rather it’s a document of the small and quiet moment in our lives that makes us what we are.

Jürgen Schadeberg: Great Britain 1964-1984
Edited by Sir Tom Hopkinson and Herbie Yamaguchi Mitteldeutscher
Verlag. €24.95 (approx. £21)
ISBN-13: 978-3898128537

© Eleanor O’Kane 2012

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