The Willman Collection

Rare Silver Gelatin Hand Printed Photography

Historic portrait of Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a true hero of mine. My story with him goes back many years. Nothing makes me smile with instant joy more than listening to ‘The Arch’ speak. It was inevitable in my journey to find Nelson Mandela I would end up working and spend some time with this plucky, exuberant individual.

From the moment we met I knew I loved The Archbishop. I walked into his office armed with a pen, a few scraps of paper and my camera, I was ready to listen and learn. I’ll never forget how Tutu walked up to me and in his caricatured voice looked up at me and said:

“My name is Bishop Tutu, I have a big nose and I’m stumpy. “

I cried out laughing. How cool was this man? He clasped my hand with his two hands and welcomed me into his office. We found some chairs to sit on and the next thirty minutes quite literally changed the way I saw the world. If anything it reaffirmed my commitment to getting to Mandela.

As the two of us floated from one question to the next I began to go off track and ask questions that had nothing to do with his opinion on certain things about our history. It became more about his ability to handle rejection, walking the tight line between anger and forgiveness. As I asked these questions, Tutu became more and more reflective, he began to take his time in answering. You could clearly see how he was exploring these deep questions with both his personal experiences and his theology.

Tutu folded his hands in front of his face almost in a prayer like reverence, closed his eyes and continued to speak, his words coming from a very deep and considered place.

 “You know, one of my greatest weaknesses, one of my many weaknesses, is that I love to be loved, and to be vilified as a matter of cause was excruciatingly painful. I needed to be strong and as I grew stronger I developed a skin like a rhinoceros. Faith is a commitment to believing in the unseen, it’s a risk, but I know that it’s a risk I would not want to live without.”


Over the years the testimony of Desmond Tutu has impacted my life tremendously. The portrait I took of Tutu that morning was not commissioned nor was I trying to enhance any activism, slant or impression that would concoct an already well-established caricature of this well-known figure in South Africa. Instead when it came time to pick up my camera my viewfinder fell upon a face at peace, a human well content and comfortable in his arm chair gazing into the camera.

In truth there was very little choreography or styling needed on my part to compose the photograph. I captured a moment as it was, as he was. This I believe is what makes this photograph so appealing, so inviting and meditative in its projection. The image is a quiet witness of a man most at peace in his own space having just engaged in deep conversation. In fact the moment was so organic and in many ways fleeting I only fired off this one portrait on that cold blustery August morning in Cape Town back in 2002.

Tail piece:

Archbishop Tutu was teasing Mandela during a public speech that he should dress better and making fun of the flowery shirts Mandela wore in his retirement. Everyone laughed but Mandela had the last laugh. When it was Mandela’s turn to speak he promptly told the audience that he didn’t see why he should take advice from a man who wore a pink dress.

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