Mandela the icon
Nelson Mandela, the legendary leader who helped to end apartheid in South Africa and later became the country’s first black president, had largely withdrawn from public life by 2011. But he agreed to one last photoshoot: A portrait-sitting for photographer Adrian Steirn’s “21 Icons” project, a multimedia series highlighting those who played a role in shaping modern South Africa. Steirn, one of South Africa’s leading photographers, captured Mandela at his boyhood home in the village of Qunu, located in the nation’s Eastern Cape Province. The photoshoot would become one of Mandela’s last.
Reflection of dignity
Mandela’s portrait in the 21 Icons project took careful consideration. “We had to come up with a concept that was both viable and meaningful,” Steirn tells Reader’s Digest. The final result was a photograph titled “A Reflection of Dignity,” which captured Mandela’s “majestic aura and humble spirit simultaneously,” HuffPost.com wrote. “The concept of the mirror allowed him to step out of the portrait and ‘reflect’ on South Africa today and the part he played in that process,” according to Steirn.
A South African himself, Steirn says that his deep admiration for Mandela inspired him to create the “21 Icons” project. Shaking the leader’s hand for the first time “was amazing,” he says. “You hear so much about this man, living in a country that is based around his narrative.” But Mandela—or Madiba, as he was affectionately nicknamed by South Africans—quickly put Steirn and his crew at ease. “He was the kind of guy that made you feel like the important one. That was his gift,” Steirn says.