The Willman Collection

Rare Silver Gelatin Hand Printed Photography

About Matthew Willman

Matthew Willman was born in 1979 outside of Durban, South Africa. He grew up in a middle class family with three other siblings at the end of the street. Much of Willman’s formative years were spent climbing trees or wandering off on his own living within his imaginative make-believe world.

Whilst Apartheid began to implode in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, sporadic violence, street bombings, and the threat of social unrest were an everyday reality. Yet through it all, this skinny unsure kid trained as a ballet dancer in an old government school hall over the road from a police station.

In his late teens, Willman made the transition from ballet to photography. For Willman it was a natural progression. Photography and ballet were married to each other. Both opened worlds through which Willman’s love for the visual arts could grow and thrive. The camera became a passport he could use to explore not only his passion for dance but an extraordinary tool he could use to interpret, discover and make sense of the world around him. Photography gave him a clear voice in an otherwise fragmented dystopian world.

“In as much as I am a photographer, it is the intimacy of being a printer in the darkroom 'making' photos, bringing to life these moments on film that is every much a part of my artistry and vision today.”

With nothing to offer the world except his imagination captured through this light tight box, Willman embarked on an extraordinary journey few ever thought possible. A journey that would become his life-long passion, to one day shake the hand of Nelson Mandela. In 2004 Willman achieved this dream and he became, for over a period of 10 years, a commissioned photographer to Nelson Mandela himself capturing some of the most recognisable portrait works of Nelson Mandela.

“Every negative inserted into the enlarger is the start of an extraordinary journey. Every final print an expression of this vision with a drama all of its own.”

In 2011 Willman founded a non-profit foundation trust to support his various charitable and philanthropic endeavours with a focus on enabling young adults in their quest for education and development within the field of photography, ballet and the visual arts.

Willman’s home is found along the edges of the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve in Kwa Zulu-Natal on the east coast of Southern Africa where his studio and darkroom are nestled among ancient trees rich with indigenous fauna and flora. Through his camera Willman continues to engage with the world, clients and friends bare testimony to the influence he has had around the world.

Personal Comments on MW

‘Thank you Matthew for capturing ‘Madiba’ (Mandela) for the rest of us.’

‘Matthew is passionately connected to the complexity of his existence and those around him. I’m sure of Matthew’s gift, it’s not an issue...he connects with his passion...the rest just follows.’

‘Matthew has the ability to see and creatively narrate the essence of life where it is found, his work is seminal in its vision and iconic by its very nature’

‘Mr Willman is a world-class talent whose striking and evocative images have found its place on the world stage.’

‘Matthew is a remarkably talented photographer and I am thrilled to see the quality of the work he is producing’.

‘Matthew’s passion and enthusiasm for his art, his sensitivity and love of people is immediately felt. This is how his magic begins, allowing his vision and mastery to come through his camera then onto paper. Willman’s work is a gift, an artist of world-class standing.’

Select Galleries & Exhibitions

  • The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
  • The Bill Clinton Presidential Library – Little Rock, Arkansas USA
  • The Vlinderpaleis, Antwerp Belgium
  • Bonhams SA Art Exhibition & Auction – London, UK
  • Conner Prairie, Indianapolis, USA
  • Art in the Yard – Franschhoek, South Africa
  • Areteos Gallery, Central, Hong Kong
  • World Human Rights Day – South African High Commission, London, UK
  • Oxfam International – Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Australia
  • Robben Island Collection – Cardiff, Wales
  • The SA Jewish Museum – Cape Town, South Africa
  • The Everard Read Gallery – Rosebank, Johannesburg
  • The Thon Dittmar Palais – Regensburg, Germany
  • The South African Embassy – Berlin, Germany
  • DEG Bank – Cologne, Germany
  • World Congress on HIV & Aids – Mexico City, Mexico
  • CHIVA Africa Exhibition – Pall Mall, London, UK
  • The Gallery – Rosebank, South Africa
  • ‘Prisoner in the Garden’ – The Nelson Mandela Foundation – Houghton, South Africa
  • ‘Dreams for Africa’ Chair – Durban Art Gallery – Durban, South Africa
  • Vukukhanye: Rising Up – Tromso, Norway
  • ‘In our Hands’ Mandela & Rhino – Bowral, New South Wales, Australia

“I seek only to create, for in life I have learnt that ‘creation’ is the essence of being human.

Creation always starts with a fleeting idea, an idea that becomes a vision and only once that vision has been poured out onto a canvas telling its own story am I able to let it go and move on. Until then it rages within seeking expression.

Each finished work of art is a tiny episodic chapter expressing who I am and the story I am telling.”

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