Documentary photographer Matthew Willman will speak at the Durban Book Fair tomorrow about his book 22 Years and the art of visual storytelling.
Documentary photographer Matthew Willman will speak at the Durban Book Fair tomorrow about his book 22 Years and the art of visual storytelling.

Durban photographer to share extraordinary life behind lens

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Mar 6, 2021

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Durban's documentary photographer Matthew Willman has worked in 42 countries and was the photographer commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to capture Mandela moments for 10 years.

He has also photographed 12 presidents, eight Nobel laureates and a host of celebrities, sports personalities and philanthropists. He also lectures and gives motivational talks around the world.

Documentary photographer Matthew Willman spends 10 months of the year travelling, lecturing and capturing memorable images.

Willman will speak at this month's Durban Book Fair tomorrow ((CORR)) about his book 22 Years.

The book documents his many experiences across the globe and has been described as a "diverse and eclectic" collection of nearly 300 photographs, and includes "fleeting moments that go unnoticed, capturing extraordinary moments“.

He is a true photographer, in that he will choose film over manipulated digital images, and whenever possible, still makes sure he has printed copies of his images.

"I like to weave a story. Every image is about context and has a story behind it. A painting needs to have a story behind it, but a photograph has a story behind it. I always tell students to stop trying to create perfection, create stories. A picture must tell a story whether it hurts or not, it should evoke emotion.

"22 Years is an anthology, and each image has a story. I chose 300 out of 25 000," he said.

Willman, whose normal hectic schedule includes travelling for 10 months of the year, said lockdown made him feel "a bit shell-shocked, but my garden started to look amazing and I did some writing. This time also allowed me to look back at my career over the last 24 years."

A candid shot of Nelson Mandela by Matthew Willman, who was commissioned photographer by the Nelson Mandela Foundation

Ten of those years was as the commissioned photographer for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, during which time he spent many hours capturing candid shots of Mandela.

According to strict protocols in place around Mandela when he was president, Willman was not supposed to get closer than two metres to him. But getting an idea of capturing an image of Mandela's hands, Willman got permission from Zelda la Grange, Mandela's private assistant, to get closer to his subject.

"I was literally over his shoulders to get the shot of his hands," said Willman.

He has completed three other books: We Called Him Madiba, Tripping Over Presidents and Private Space.

Having been commissioned to photograph the likes of US presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, as well as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and high profile celebrities such as Annie Lennox (the two became friends), his book 'Tripping Over Presidents' is anecdotal and he said this week he would like to write a more hard hitting-book about his experiences around the globe.

Having trained as a ballet dancer, documentary photographer Matthew Willman’s book ’Private Space’ features dancers from around the world

Having grown up in Durban and training in ballet, as a young man, he saw his future in dance. He chose to give that up when he started working for the Mandela Foundation.

Before that, he had also worked as a documentary photographer for the likes of Oxfam and Unicef, travelling across Africa and wanting to "save the world".

"I have always enjoyed the traditions and cultures of Africa, and photography was my passport. I have seen Africa at its most dire and Africa at its best.

"I have never regretted a single moment, especially those years with Madiba, no money could ever equate to that," he said.

Willman will speak at midday tomorrow ((Sunday March 7)) at the Durban Book Fair at The Gallery at the Ballito Lifestyle Centre.

The Durban Book Fair takes place from 10am to 5pm with a number of different speakers.

Sessions are limited to 50 people per session and all Covid protocols apply. For more information, contact 083 778 1991.

The Independent on Saturday

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