IN THE PRESENCE OF GREAT MEN
I never met him. Never shook his hand or got close enough to feel the glow of his radiant smile.
But I did photograph Nelson Mandela. Shortly after his release from prison Mandela came to Detroit. Adoring supporters filled the old Tiger Stadium on a cold fall night. The stage was in centre field, the still photographers confined to the photo hanger along the third base line.
Needless to say, even with a 500 mm lens the pictures weren’t memorable. They were barely publishable. They’re now hidden away in the dusty archives of the Windsor Star.
But why did Mandela choose to visit Detroit?
One reason – The Detroit Free Press.
Several years earlier, the venerable daily had assigned a reporter and photographer, David Turnley to cover the anti-apartheid turmoil in South Africa. Turnley, a Pulitzer winner, made memorable pictures of the revolution in that far-away land. You can read his post about photographing Mandela’s release from prison at http://lightbox.time.com/2013/12/05/a-tribute-to-nelson-mandela-by-pulitzer-winner-david-turnley/#1
He wasn’t there for just a few days or weeks. He moved there, covering the conflict in great depth and becoming close to key players. That allowed him to make unique behind-the-scenes pictures like his picture of Archbishop Desmond Tutu reading the morning papers with a cup of tea in bed.
Now that’s access.
I photographed Archbishop Tutu as well. He spoke at Cobo Auditorium in Detroit, raising money for the anti-apartheid cause. The photographers were kept well back, but I was lucky enough to once again be in the presence of a great leader and make photographs of him.