Matthew Willman | Nelson Mandela’s Photographer on the Journey From Poverty To Ballet To Capturing World Leaders

Matthew Willman 13:01

That’s a beautiful question. My mother died when I was 15. From cancer, and my father lost his job as a white man in South Africa. And he actually, so he left for six years. So my formative years from 15 to 21, I was orphaned, and I went to a boarding school in KwaZulu Natal, and just so happened, you know, a young boy needs guidance, leadership needs, you know, adult strong adult male figures, and there’s laughs that you can use as a sounding board and our happened to have been in boarding school and we were invited to the opening of a building in Durban, which is the main city on the east coast here in southern Africa, and broke me down this elderly gentleman about 100 yards away from me, there are about 1000 people in this audience on the street. This man was Nelson Mandela. And I remember looking at my border master that evening, and I remember looking at him, and I said, That’s the man I’m going to journey to and was the president at this time or now yet? When was 1995? He had been president just over a year, okay. And I knew of him as Mantilla. I mean, he’s grown in such notoriety and fame around the world by the time he was president. And he, I just something in me clicked. I saw before I knew his politics and his culture and his heritage or anything. I saw this grandfather figure and it spoke to my heart and spoke to my type of personality that I have. And I literally began a journey. John, I it wasn’t the fact that your second part of the question wasn’t just that, oh, I want to meet Nelson Mandela. He’s going to meet me. You have to appreciate that Nelson Mandela over the last, you know, his presidential years was very much about famous people coming to South Africa. Go see Robben Island, go see a piece of heritage and then go see Mandela and present him with the check or donation to his trust and foundation which is beautiful. And yeah, was as this 15 year old 16 year old South African white boy, who was 600 kilometers away from his home in Johannesburg, dying to meet him. And I just couldn’t I wrote 72 letters over nine years to the Mandela Foundation to Robben Island, the office of the presidency. I mean, I used to call them analysis of rejection. So what I’m trying to say here is that I was a young boy who was a ballet dancer, in a world that was often ostracized, creative arts like that, who had a dream to meet Nelson Mandela had no way to get it because I had no money behind me and I live 600 kilometers away from them. And yet for nine years, I held true to that dream it gave you know what, John, whether I got to Mandela or not, that’s not the important part. And I don’t like to harp on that. But what I like to harp on is that, particularly to audiences that I speak to around the world, Mandela gave me a laugh with living he gets there he was the end goal, and whether or not our reach that end goal, which was beautiful, I did, it gave me the purpose, and it gave me the direction I needed to achieve a lot that had some form of value. You know, I, you know, it’s a struggle. So by the time I got to him, so what happened was, I realized, for the last few years of trying to find that he was not going to see there was not a chance in hell that he was going to see the SmartWay he was now 19 years old, who wanted to meet him. So what I did was, I packed my bags, I had nothing to lose. And I spent the next four years of my life going out around South Africa, to document visually, places and people and environments and the head, some kind of a history to Mandela. And what opened up for me was an absolute miracle. I got to work with the former state presidents apartheid leaders PW Botha, FW de Klerk, Archbishop Desmond Tutu became a wonderful friend of mine. He was the first person to endorse and support my arts Trust, which supports young artists to educate themselves here in South Africa and abroad in the States. And so I I grew this incredible community around me, but it wasn’t until I sacrificed 18 months of my life, I went to go live on Robben Island. Later.

John Corcoran 17:20

That’s insane to me. What was that experience like?

Matthew Willman 17:24

Robben Island, I spoiled rotten Island, I had two birthdays on the island. It’s a Dutch word for word Robin is a Dutch word for seal. There are so many seals that use it as a base to you know, to copulate and just, you know, bear populations, but the island itself is 50 hectares. It’s got no natural water, but it was it has its own weather climate separate to continental Africa. And on this island, 10% of it is a prison preset. And they for 360 years, colonizers from the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and then Africana used Robben Island as a place of isolation. They, you know, the whole concept of art and conquer, they used to go into the hinterland into Africa and steal literally steal the chiefs and the leaders. And by taking away the leadership, they could just conquer these these these African communities who are living in peace. And so there were many, many, many hundreds of these ships that died on Robben Island, and so 10% of the island is a prison. And it was that prison that 1964 Nelson Mandela began his life imprisonment and and the reason why I committed so much time as I needed to try to understand how John that is so important, how do you come out of 27 years of imprisonment, and preach forgiveness? It blows my mind that they were tortured physically, but emotional, psychological isolation, what it would have broken me in the first week. I mean, even in the first day Mandela got there. I know there’s no documented a prison warden came to them and not see sympathizing prison warden came to Mandela and he said, today you have lost your name. You are no longer Nelson Mandela. You’re a number they gave him a number four double 664 which was prisoner 466 In the year 1964. And they said we you will die on this island and go out first in a cardboard box. Now if you look at the tax records, so I needed to understand how these men injured this the space I’m gave my life to to this island and Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said to me, he said, The magnanimity of these men like Nelson Mandela, there is no truer word. He was magnanimous in his graciousness towards his former enemy, and you know, after spending so much time I used to submit these portfolios these little ring bound jumbo size portfolios postcard size to them. Mandela Foundation. And that’s what got me in that they recognize the work I was creating. And I, it was so funny because the US offered them for free. I said use them. So what we did was in 2004. A year later, we launched the Mandela center of memory, which is our presidential library to Nelson Mandela era in Africa. Based on 18 of my pictures, my photographs from Robben Island, Mandela personally went through them. And he chose because he spent 18 years of his 27 years in prison on the island. So he personally chose 18 images that he could relate to, they could tell his story on the island, and they offered to pay me so I said, Mandela, you’re not going to pay me any bad you Nelson Mandela. I’ll do it for free. And he says, No, I respect you as an artist. And Mandela bought me my first car. Wow, three and a half.

John Corcoran 20:52

Okay, so that’s, that’s the basic story I want. I want to hear about that. But prior to that, first of all, let me ask you this. How did you fund all of this all these years? Did you find creative solutions? How did you support yourself? How did you spend 18 months was there.

Matthew Willman 21:12

You know what, I was always an end goal. And I would do anything, anything. So I was a waiter in a restaurant. Even my first you’re not gonna believe was my first three years working with Nelson Mandela. I was still a waiter. I was working with them in the morning. So I was still living in Durban. So I get the phone call. No Magellan needs you. 10 o’clock the next morning. There were no aeroplane flats. After eight o’clock at night from Durban to Johannesburg and our spots on the city 371. I used to leave home at two o’clock in the morning. I used to be in waitering clothes and my God and I used to get a whatsapp or whatever SMS or a text message or email and delaneys you here or there the next morning? I used to work till 11 o’clock at night, come home shower, speak for two hours and get in my car and go. And that went on for years. Because

John Corcoran 22:05

the six or seven hour car ride from Durban.

Matthew Willman 22:08

Yeah. So I was there waiting because the competitive was very competitive, competitive. So I worked as a waiter I did I shoot initial type of client. I mean, I was wedding photographer, I was putting off pets. I was starting documentary photography. So I was supporting myself by hook or by crook within the industry of photography. And after about three years, I realized that my work was growing. I was maturing as a photographer, and I gave up the waitering. And it’s full into what I still currently do today.

John Corcoran 22:42

Yeah, it’s gotta be, there’s gotta be these moments where you’re going between shooting, you know, world leader of all time, Nelson Mandela. And then the next day you’re waiting tables and some tables upset at you because you’ve grabbed to bring the ketchup or something or the salt or whatever, you know, I mean,

Matthew Willman 22:58

rots about that, in my one. Biography, my personal typography. You know, the thing is, you might look at it now go, but how do you do one I wasn’t paid enough to to be with Mandela. I couldn’t support myself on that, even though I was doing a few shoots. And secondly, for me, it wasn’t about the money. I just wanted access to Mandela. And, and I would I would I would do it even if I wasn’t paid. So it was the but then I still had to support myself. Yeah,

John Corcoran 23:24

yeah. And I actually waited tables as well for a while when I was younger, in college and high school. And I think it’s amazing preparation for providing great customer service to anyone you’re working with. So for sure, it’s yeah. I want to ask you about your first time that you met Mandela not counting the time you saw him at the building opening. And I also want to ask about any particular incredibly memorable times that you were with him? Let’s start with the first time.

Matthew Willman 23:55

The first time was orchestrated i They accepted my images. And they we set up on the 13th of August 2003. This this occasion that I had with Mandela and they said, You’ve got 10 minutes, you’re gonna be introduced to him. We take a couple of pictures if you want. And that’s it full stop, you know, nothing. And it ended up being about an hour and 20 minutes, Mandela started telling us about stories and I started capturing these images. But what really endeared me to the Mandela Foundation was that one he was relaxed around me. And two, I was creating images became memory images. I took one of the most famous photographs ever. There are two photographs of Mandela one was his hand or took the palm of his hand and the other one was the only portraits that have Mandela’s Amandla first and there was the love that and I remember when I first heard him, it was amazing. I spent years trying to get to this point. And I’ve been coming through the door and Carol was standing in the corridor and I’ve been beckoned into the sort of empty rooms lounge and As he walked towards me now, I didn’t know anything about protocols, John, you know what protocols are like working around presidents and particularly in the White House. But, you know, you practice towards, but I wasn’t, I was straight of Robben Island, having lived on this steel infested Island. And now I had to behave in a way that I had no idea no one taught me. So I walked up to him and I took hold of his hand. And I’ll never forget, I looked at him and I didn’t know what is called, what do you call the scrape man? And I just said, Good morning, Mr. Mandela, Madiba said, and about it was so very scared. You do. And he laughed at me immediately. I went Madiba, which is the clan name we give him. I said, Monday, but it’s taken me nine years to meet you. And he just looked at me and he says, yeah, and why didn’t you just found me? I was like, yes, you and seven people

John Corcoran 25:57

is such a great sense of humor.

Matthew Willman 25:59

And that’s how it went on. And I’ll never forget, it was about a fourth of fifth shoot with him over about two months or whatever. I was doing ad hoc work, there was nothing that said I was ever going to see him again. So if you shoot them, I was like, this is a last last time ever. And he turned to me one day. And he said, you said to he had someone come from some famous case. And he turned to me and pointed to me. And he says, Yeah, you see that young boy. And I looked around because a young boy, Mandela, and he was looking straight acne. And he says, this young boy, he is my Prince Harry. And I looked at him and I said, why was he not have DJ and oil, and I just don’t even look like the man. The thing. It was crazy. So everyone heard it around. And they all kind of laughed and in a way that we, but ever since then Mandela called me Prince Harry. And then I sat with a few people at the foundation. And you know what I think he said that, you know, I had nothing to offer Mandela, I was I middle class white boy, who was just looking for opportunity, the only respect that I could give Mandela was to wear a suit, with hours in 40 degrees centigrade, or 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the desert, or when his homestead group, or hours in an office building on a street, I always wore a suit, it was the only thing I could do to give this man saying to him, I respect you. And it actually worked for me, because, you know, journalists, as you know, don’t always win maybe in the White House, they do. But you know, when you’re out in the field, like my work, they were cocky, and they were, you know, it’s good that I was there in a throng of 50 to 100 of these Christian media from around the world. And there was in a black and white suit with a red tie or a green towel or something. And it was amazing. Mandela would look at Williams, and he would look for me, and then I’ll get the shot of me. So it worked for me. I think that’s why he called me was Harry because I was so neat, smart,

John Corcoran 28:10

but amazing from to me from all that is, when people meet their hero. Rarely do they have the presence of mind to make them relaxed. And oftentimes, you hear these stories of people that fumble over the words, they’re nervous, that sort of thing. So I’m sure Mandela experienced that frequently to whatever constellation that helps you, you know, but um, was there something that that you did you think that that made him feel relaxed around you in those early days?

Matthew Willman 28:42

You know, I wrote that first biography five years ago, and I started asking people around Mandela, who I worked with, like as a personal assistant to the director, the CEO, or the chairman or foundation and they had a collective answer for me and, and it’s one of the greatest quotes that someone’s ever written about me is older, his personal assistant said to me, you know, Matthew, whenever you walked into the room, you never had an alternative agenda. You were there to a respect Mandela and to do and to focus on the job at hand. You never asked for signatures you never asked for photos of you. And then you went in there, you weren’t loud, you’re a fly on the wall. You went and did your job. You did it well, and you left and then we were able to harness the images from what you captured. And, and I mean, so for me, that means a hell of a min it means that I do my job. Well, you know, I remember when Mandela died, an American journalist from a country of Washington Post, someone emailed me a message that actually phoned me and they said, Hi, we’ve been put your name apparently you photograph Nelson Mandela for many years at the foundation. And he said to me in the same breath, how come I haven’t ever heard about you? And it was almost like well, you must be lying you must be who you you know why you masquerading saying you work with Mandela when we have heard you And I said my answer to him was ignited by job well, you know, it wasn’t for fame. It wasn’t for money. It was. Mandela was my grandfather. He wasn’t Kulu he was tatelman cooler, which is Zulu word for he was the great father, you know, and I needed that in my life. And if I could be there for him to photograph what was needed and leave, that was what I needed. You know?

John Corcoran 30:23

You You mentioned that the reason that you went to Robben Island was in part because he wanted to figure out how he retained his, in your words, magnanimity, in spite of the harsh conditions, in spite of just the desperation, the the horrors that he went through, and he walked out of prison, preaching forgiveness, then you spent 10 years with them. After that 10 years with him? Did you find an answer to that question? Were you able to figure out what it was that enabled him to retain that spirit about him and to walk out of prison?

Matthew Willman 31:02

Preaching forgiveness? And the simple answer is, yes, I did. You know, you don’t always have to talk to a person to appreciate them, or to respect them. But to watch them. I had the privilege of being this flower on the wall, when he was meeting American presidents when he was meeting Imams of mosques, or, you know, rabbis of Jewish communities or Christian community or whoever it’s children. The thread the common thread that he Magennis, you know what John, he had, he had gone through so much pain, so much anger and hatred that could have destroyed him any point in his life, but a shrink, but at every point in his life, he chose last. He liberated himself, because he knew that if he did not put down is rock I call it a rock of forgiveness, lay it on the ground, a physical act, which he did on Robben Island, when you return it, you picked up a rock and you’ve laid it down and he says, this fall no further, I knew that. In his words, he says, I knew that when I left prison, when I walked through that gate, I had to leave behind me, the things that that caused my pain and anger, because not only did he have a nation to build, but he had to build it in himself. First, the strength came from weapon. He had really gone through the murk he had gone through the cesspool of what any human being is capable of surviving. And it popped up on top, a better person for it. You know, I’ve met Holocaust survivors, and I’ve met people who’ve experienced huge pain and tragedy in their lives, whether it’s HIV and AIDS, or families decimated, floods or whatever. There is a common thread of love that still exists with these people. And I really did, I didn’t expect that going into my experience Mandela, but it came to the fore so often that he, he had, he was at peace with the world. He was a piece of themselves. And he was so self effacing. He never did. Yes, of course, the attention would have been on him. But you know, he said to Oprah Winfrey, when he visited Chicago for the show that Winfrey Show, he stood in the wings. And he Oprah said, are you ready? And he says, and what is the topic of conversation today? per se, uma dBu, the topic of conversation, and I think that just speaks volumes to the top man he was he just he didn’t accrue power or wealth as a president. He’s the only African President ever to relinquish power. After we have the one, what is it today for our generations, we’ve got African presidents who have 48 years and presidents, their sons are the Minister of Finance, you can just imagine where the money is going, you know, a cow, we have a man who was ridiculed by his other African leaders for serving one term. And he said to them, I created this power base. So that awkward hand to the next generation. And it’s a beautiful, you know, not without a school’s but rising up,

John Corcoran 34:02

you worked for him up through when he died in 2013. Any other memories that you want to share? And I don’t want to minimize all the other work that you’ve done. I do want to get to ask him about that as well. So but obviously, we want to we want to talk about Mandela, but anything related to his death or anything, any other memories you want to

Matthew Willman 34:23

share? Oh, thank you. Look, I never went to the funeral. I it was just too much for me. I agree with them on my own. It was a very difficult situation. Because, you know, to me, he was the world. He was just my boss, you know, go they were, but he became he was so much more than that. He transitioned me into manhood, and he allowed me to witness some rare moments in his life. So when he died, obviously, the public outpouring was was huge. But I was able to step back from it all and just pick out little inferences. You know, when he left. He came to Johannesburg in the 1950s. And for the first time as a Rural boy grew up in rural Eastern Tech. And the longest memory I have now is when the Hercules aeroplane the big military transport plane in Pretoria, moved his coffin into the plane for the last time and when he flew, he left Johannesburg for the last time just like the queen leaving Buckingham Palace this past week. You know, it’s it’s heavy, because there’s such history to that. So these are the memories I take. And because I know the family well and I know the basis but hold such a value to Mandela, I found myself going back to these bases to remember with with joy and to remind myself of his legacy. He’s so important that we remember his legacy now we battling as a country we’ve got we’ve forgotten his legacy. We’ve, we’ve acknowledged them, we’ve put them in on our money, we’ve put them on monuments and memorials, but where is the common man, intersecting with Mandela and his legacy? You know, how do we do and that’s what’s so important to my life now is to keep alive this memory of Mandela. So he’s not just this icon on a plinth. But he’s this human being who, who suffered and came up the other side, I suppose.

John Corcoran 36:10

Yeah. Thanks for sharing those stories, really enjoyed hearing them. I want to ask about some of the other work that you’ve done. You’ve worked with a number of US presidents, you worked with my old boss, President Clinton. You’ve worked with three US presidents Carter, and Obama as well. One of the most common questions I get is what they were like behind the scenes. So I’ll turn it around and ask it to you what were your experiences, like behind the scenes? Because the photographer sees it all?

Matthew Willman 36:37

Yeah, literally, you see the good, the bad? Yeah,

John Corcoran 36:41

literally mean like, you know, in the White House, sometimes everyone else, all the other staff or everyone else gets out of the way. They have to leave the room, but the world leaders in the photographer?

Matthew Willman 36:51

That’s right. I mean, look at Pete Souza. I’m jealous of that man. The privilege she had, and the photographs are to what I’ve got his book. Wonderful.

John Corcoran 37:00

Photography is amazing. Yes, yeah, he’s got so many iconic photos.

Matthew Willman 37:05

President Clinton, I mean, he to be one of the best orators in the world. I mean, President, wow, when he got up and he spoke, and just like Obama, I always say President Obama, those who’ve had the privilege of shaking his hand, he really does have the best handshake. And I’m convinced that I’ve read articles on this, how he engages with people. And this is true, where he’s a beautiful man, I love it. He just the way he reaches out to you and just treats, you need a little pet photography, you know, there was respect. And he even smiled. And I remember I really, really, really wanted to shake his hand and protocol didn’t allow me Ian went up on just before he went up on stage behind the green room, there was five steps. And I remember cowering down behind the Secret Service agents, and I put my head down, and I put my hand up, and I looked at him, and I said, I want to shake your head and he just gave me the biggest handshake. It made my day, you know, and I just wish them luck. And he was just a man, a man of the people. Jimmy Carter, I think he’s, uh, how old is he now? 101 100 Tuna?

John Corcoran 38:10

I mean, it’s like that. Yeah.

Matthew Willman 38:13

I met him with the Christian organization, Habitat for Humanity. He was doing work with other African leaders in Africa. And I had the privilege of documenting his work out in South Africa for Habitat for Humanity. And I mean, the salt of yours my words, the no frills around that man, just salt of the earth tell cells like this doesn’t want to talk about anything remotely interested in fame fortune or anything. He just, he’s obviously a committed Christian, but he just the drop of a hat, you know, how can I serve a man of service. And this is really what I’ve appreciated about my work with American presidents is their men of service. And it’s very inspiring for for someone who’s not American, and it has the privilege of coming to your country, and to see all walks of life. So I’ve had huge privileges working with a cross section of your communities in America. It’s wonderful.

John Corcoran 39:06

I know we’re running a little short on time here, but it’s so many other amazing organizations that you’ve worked with, from as I mentioned in the intro, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, laureates, to you know, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Annie Lennox, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and not to mention hairy situations, scary situations, you know, where you’re where you put yourself at risk. Any other experiences that you can share from a lifetime of

Matthew Willman 39:37

photography? I think it’s the Yeah, the image is the memory you take but you know, it’s I when I think of heroes, I think of young street urchins, black African kids who back into even put shoes on their feet who gets found and start ballet and when the Prix de Lausanne and so It’s an in the greatest Valley award in the world because somebody took notice of them and train them as a ballet dancer. There are miracles upon miracles happening in Africa every single day that I just can’t feed myself enough with them they I mean, as I said grandmothers who are looking after 10 grandchildren or or a fisherman on the in the most Madagascan channel, who are waded out with them, and He saved my life. Because in this the reptile, the slow times, there were two bull sharks, which was the BC sharks who were circling us. And it was just his education on how to keep them away by slapping the water with this long Harpoon, that should the sharks didn’t match the vibration. So they stayed away, he saved my life. Now, no education, no Western education could have saved my life today, except for a man who’s never set foot in a classroom, never picked up a cellphone or even knows what a laptop or computer is, at 75 ad is all the same. And this just brings us to the common denominator behavior out of our humanity. And whether it was Mandela to to or someone who’s dying of river blindness, parasites and I in, in East Africa, or wherever the resonance is the same is our humaneness and, and I just think we sometimes we miss, we miss the boat sometimes. And hopefully the image can keep speaking, we

John Corcoran 41:23

were talking beforehand about another South African who is having a big impact on present day on the world, really on culture on society. And that’s Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show who means so much to your country, and cares so deeply about it. Such an interesting person. So articulate, uses his comedy to educate, and you’ve had a few projects that he has been involved in that, that you could share.

Matthew Willman 41:53

Oh, that’s great. So I spent a lot of time speaking and lecturing and doing presentations to children across South Africa. And Trevor Noah is just is another hero. He’s he’s an absolute renegade who’s just fitted. He’s just fitted into American society. And we’re so proud of him here in South Africa, through his comedy and through his education. So very often to people that want to listen to me, I get him to do a video for me as a complete surprise, so these kids sit there and they listen to me. And then I said, I’ve got a friend who wants to say something to you. And it’s life changing for these kids. So my huge kudos and to Trevor for what he’s doing and for whenever forgetting where his roots are, I mean, his grandmother was, was the matriarch of his family, a beautiful woman who I never met, but it resonates with our society and our communities, the respect we have for our elders, and he’s never forgotten that. So wonderful, man.

John Corcoran 42:51

Yeah. Wrapping things up. I asked everyone this. I call it my gratitude question. And I’m a big fan of expressing gratitude, especially to those who helped you along the way. Obviously, we spent a big chunk of time talking about Mandela and the impact that he’s had on you. But I’d love to know who you would want to call out who you’d want to just kind of thank publicly for for being there for you.

Matthew Willman 43:15

John, thank you for that. I’m there to meeting that I really just a shout out. One man lives in in America. He’s in Cincinnati, and his name is John pepper. John Pepper was the pharmacy for about 20 years of Procter and Gamble. And he was a former chairman of Walt Disney, and I met John without knowing who he was. He phoned me one day I was in Germany doing an exhibition on Mandela. And he says, I’m coming to South Africa, and passionate to learn about Nelson Mandela, can you take me around South Africa to teach me about Mandela. And I never charged him. He just paid for my flags and my travel to get to him. And we spent two beautiful weeks in South Africa in 2014. And we struck up a wonderful friendship. And John brought the privilege of bringing to the national Underground Railroad Freedom Center, one of the world’s most beautiful exhibitions on the life of Nelson Mandela, in which he helped fund but also support it. I’m eternally grateful for that, because that affords the American people a window an opportunity to engage with this man, Nelson Mandela. So and John has always been there for me, even if it’s a little project I’m doing, he’s interested in phones we chat is become sort of a father figure to me. So I’m greatly greatly appreciative of John. And then secondly is a man who the very, very early years of my career stood up and supported me and his name was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man who carried the moral conscience of our country on our shoulders who was never afraid to stand up and speak for truth to speak across the divides the man who’s one of his closest friends with the Dalai Lama, which have to to show me what humanity because he showed me what forgiveness was just like Mandela, but he, he showed me how to stand up against foes and to win an enemy over. And I’ll never forget over the years that I and I had the privilege of photographing with them a certain because after one day, and I was in a bit of a mood, and I was I was fighting things. And he looked at me straight, he came across to me for sure to just said, you know, Matthew, one of my greatest weaknesses, is that I love to be loved, and to be vilified as a matter of course, was excruciatingly painful. And what he said to me in those few words was, Yes, life is hard. It’s tough. But love is one of the greatest weapons we have against the downtrodden against evil against whatever, however you interpreted. And I never forgot those words. And he, he embodied so much of what our hold is valuable traits of what it is to be human in the world today. So thank you for that privilege. Because to me,

John Corcoran 46:00

yeah, thank you. I’m curious. One final follow up question. I’m curious if those two worlds overlapped, I imagine they must have at some point, Nelson Mandela. And Desmond Tutu, did you ever photograph them together? And it’s always interesting to me also, to observe two different worlds like that with over live lapping interests. But when they come together, you know what I’m talking about, right? Sometimes, there can be friction, there can be human elements to it. So did you ever experience those two together? And if so, what was like?

Matthew Willman 46:34

Oh, yes, no, I mean, both of them are characters. I mean, they became these two little naughty school boys. But strategic came to the Mandela Foundation. He was there anyway. They have an audience with Mandela. And they was they were naughty. In such a good way. I never felt there was an occasion I wasn’t there. For this occasion, I’m going to mention Bishop Tutu was going on and on about wearing those beautiful, frilly shirts that he used to wear the Mandela shirt. And he says, How can anyone respect you, you know, not wearing a suit and whatnot, did a turn to Visual Studio, he says, Yes. And that’s rich coming from a man who wears a frock who is a purple dress. That’s camaraderie between these two men. And they, they got it, John, they got it. They passion for South Africa and for humanity was was larger than life. And they just understand it wasn’t just those two, we revere those two. But there was so many arounds that held that same spirit, we call it a boon to I am, because we are. It’s that togetherness. And I just, I just hope I just really page on that I can use it in my life going forward to keep paying it forward. Because I’m sure needed in this world today. Yeah. Yeah.

John Corcoran 47:55

Matthew, this is what fuels me is getting to talk to someone like you and having these types of conversations and hearing your stories. Thank you for taking the time to share these stories, to preserve the memory of all these amazing icons that you’ve worked with and to also share a side of them that we would not normally see that you captured through your vision or your artistry. So I just want to thank you for that. Where can people go to learn more about you and connect with you?

Matthew Willman 48:22

Thank you, I have a website. Just did a and on there, you’ll see portfolios on my work. But then I have books that I use to sell which I raise funds from Arts trust. We don’t ask people for money for much trust we paid for like what Van Gogh didn’t manage to do we sell art in order to raise funds. So we have students overseas that are studying photography, ballet, obviously, learning about our history. So yeah, just my website is this portal to get hold of me to contact me. I do come to the States to do a lot of public speaking so lovely to reach out to anyone who’s interested to have me around. Yeah, so thank you.

John Corcoan 49:02

Great, Matthew, thank you so much. 

Matthew Willman 49:05

Thank you, John.

Outro 49:06

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