Washington, D.C.-based portrait photographer and photojournalist Brooks Kraft says the most memorable experience of his professional life was the time he spent in South Africa, following Nelson Mandela’s presidential campaign of 1994. Brooks was sent by Sygma (now known as Corbis) to work on a series of political, economical, and social issue features, collaborating on a handful of stories being published in magazines around the world. Following a trail of cars down winding country roads with a small group of journalists, Brooks was able to experience the legendary man first-hand. He said Mandela always made time to be cordial to the photographers, saying hello and shaking their hands.
People from every region have been both grieving and celebrating the life of Mandela, who died at the age of 95 last week. In his own words, Brooks recalls how Mandela impacted him during the week he spent in his presence:
“We stopped in dozens of small towns in remote regions of the country. On each stop, Mandela would take the time to convene a small group of Afrikaner land owners for lunch inside a farm house. I got to see how skeptical faces filled with fear at the start of the lunch softened after a brief encounter with Mandela. He was incredibly persuasive. At the next stop, sometimes just minutes later, Mandela would switch audiences and step up on a small riser in a dirt field. There, surrounded by shanties, Mandela would speak to thousands of Apartheid victims in that same persuasive voice about the need for reconciliation and peace. The man had such a profound impact. I feel fortunate to have witnessed him at work in his homeland of South Africa.”
Of all the words of wisdom Nelson Mandela shared, we’ll keep this in mind: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”