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Weinberg shares magic moments through the lens

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ROBYN SASSEN

Pictured: Paul Weinberg’s famous photograph of Nelson Mandela casting his vote, April 1994. On show next week                                                                                  

It includes works by Jane Makhubele, Ilan Ossendryver, Alfred Thoba, Zapiro and Cape-based photographer Paul Weinberg – a co-founder of the photographic collective Afrapix – who took the only photograph of Mandela’s first vote at Ohlange School in Inanda, Durban.

He told the SAJR: “I worked for the IEC during the 1994 elections. Mandela voted a second time for hundreds of photographers outside.”

Being first in line hadn’t always been Weinberg’s privilege when it came to Mandela. When Mandela was released from the Victor Verster prison in 1991, Weinberg was late in arriving. “I sheepishly tried to find a good vista. My initial position was behind a Time photographer and his partner. As the wind blew, her hair obscured my vision.

“I then settled on a place offering a worm’s eye view. When Nelson and Winnie walked through the gates, I focused and pressed the shutter. As I did, a group of comrades to my right surged. My cameras and I went flying. My Madiba moment consists of blue sky and telephone lines!

“I joined the Mandela train to some extent,” he says. “On one occasion I was commissioned to do ‘a day in the life’ of Mandela. As we walked along the corridor, Madiba asked me: ‘Are you related to my good friend Eli Weinberg?’ I replied, ‘Not directly: our forebears came from the same city, Riga.’ ‘I see,’ he said. I knew my answer didn’t get me much closer to him. “

Always armed with an abiding interest in the discipline, Weinberg was 11 when he won a Hebrew prize designated for books. “But I ran off and bought a Canon Rangefinder, it was better than a Brownie and my first real camera. On my barmitzvah, I upgraded to a Pentax.

“After the army, I went to university; I was half way through a law degree at ‘Maritzburg University and then it was June 1976. And I realised I had to do something more.

“I handed in my rifle and registered as a conscientious objector; it was pivotal.”

Weinberg studied photography part time and finished his degree. “After that, I lived out of a suitcase with a passport next to me and got totally involved in the world around me in trying to document it. And I tripped and fell, as I went. It was incredibly exciting. We were living history.”

Weinberg co-founded Afrapix in 1982 with Omar Badsha, Lesley Lawson, Guy Tillim and Steve Hilton-Barber. Describing his work on the upcoming exhibition as “a series of firsts”, he adds: “Photographers can be inarticulate in many ways, but they know when they’ve got something special.”

  • We Love Mandela: In Memoriam is at the Welz Studio, Shop L38, Nelson Mandela Square, December 10-January 11. Call (011)026-6586 or 082-891-8252.

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