Peter Sexford Magubane was born in Vrededorp, now Pageview, and grew up in Sophiatown. He started taking some photographs using a Kodak Brownie box camera as a schoolboy.
Dr Peter Magubane
In 1954 he read a copy of Drum, a magazine known for its reporting of urban blacks and the effects of apartheid and shortly after started at Drum as a driver. The highly motivated and resourceful Magubane landed a job as Jurgen Schadeberg’s, the magazine’s chief photographer and picture editor, darkroom assistant. A year later he was given his first photographic assignment to cover the 1955 African National Congress annual conference held in Bloemfontein. Joining Drum allowed Magubane to become part of the legendary Drum generation of black and white writers, artists, musicians and photographers.
Being on assignment in the early years wasn't easy. They were not allowed to carry a camera in the open if the police were involved, so he often had to hide his camera to get the pictures he wanted. On occasion he hid his camera in a hollowed-out Bible, firing with a cable release in his pocket. At another time, at a trial in Zeerust from which the press were banned, Peter hid his Leica 3G in a hollowed-out loaf of bread and pretended to eat while he was actually shooting pictures; when the bread went down, he bought milk and hid the camera in the carton.
Magubane photographed most of South Africa's historic moments e.g. Sharpeville in 1960 and also Mandela's Rivonia trial in 1964. He later recalled, ‘’I had never seen so many dead people’’. His editor wanted to know why he hadn't taken any close-ups.
Between 1955 and 1963, when he left Drum, Magubane covered most of the major political events in the country and befriended the leading political figures of the liberation movements, in particular he was a close friend of Nelson and Winnie Mandela.
Dr Magubane is one of the worlds most acclaimed photographers with nine honorary doctorates and numerous awards locally and internationally. These include the Order Of Meritorious Service Silver Class from former President Mandela in 1999 and the ICP Cornell Kappa Life Time Achievement Award in 2010.He was the first black photographer to win best press photo of the year in 1958 and earlier this month received The SANEF -Nat Nakasa Life Time Achievement Award.
In 1961 he held a one person exhibition making him one of the first photographer’s to exhibit in South Africa. In 1963 he went abroad and worked as a freelance photographer. In 1966 Magubane came back to South Africa and worked for the Rand Daily Mail until 1980.
In June 1969 he was arrested while photographing protesters outside the prison where Winnie Mandela and 21 other political activists were being detained. He was held in solitary confinement for 586 days and when he was released, he was served with a five year banning order which meant that he could not work for any publishing company and was forced to resign from the Rand Daily Mail. In August Magubane and other black journalists were detained for 123 days and his house was destroyed in a fire.
Magubane’s coverage of the 1976 June 16 student uprisings earned him worldwide acclaim and led to a number of international photographic and journalistic awards. In 1986 he was awarded the American National Professional Photographers Association Humanistic Award in recognition of one of several incidents in which he put his camera aside and intervened to help prevent people from being killed. He has 21 books published and three in production and due for publication this year and early next year.
From 1978 Magubane worked for Time Magazine and later freelanced for the United High Commission for Refugees and UNICEP. Magubane has published 17 books, two of which were banned by the Apartheid government,” Black as I Am” (with poetry by Zindzi Mandela), 1978 and “Black Child” in 1982.
Since the establishment of the new democracy he has stopped covering news, and has concentrated on exhibitions and publishing work from his extensive archive done over a long and distinguished career as South Africa’s foremost photojournalist.
*A UNIQUE exhibition featuring photographs of the country’s best-loved former leader, Nelson Mandela, by Dr Peter Magubane, is a fitting way to mark the 10th anniversary of the only university that bears Mandela’s name.
The “Madiba – Man of the People” exhibition is commemorating the 10th anniversary of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, which was born out of the 2005 merger of the University of Port Elizabeth, the Port Elizabeth Technikon and Vista University Port Elizabeth campus, situated in the Missionvale township.
The NMMU exhibition, which opens to the public from July 21 to September 21, 2015, will be launched on July 20, with a talk by Magubane on the photographs featured and the story they tell about the life and times of Mandela in the context of the evolving and contentious South African history.
Tel: +27 (0) 41 504 1111
Fax: +27 (0) 41 504 2574 / 2731
PO Box 77000, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Port Elizabeth, 6031, South Africa
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