James Soullier, who passed away in Johannesburg in 2005 at the age of 76, was chief photographer of the Sunday Express before moving on to become chief photographer for the Sunday Times between 1965 and 1991.
Famed for his love of his Leica camera, which he refused to move from despite his peers shifting to more modern technology, James was renowned for his passion for natural, ambient light and was never observed using a flash.
Born in Ontario, Canada in 1928, James arrived in South Africa in 1948 via England and Australia, and taught himself photography while employed as a commercial artist for OK Bazaars. He has been described as having the soul of an artist, harnessing light and shade to create atmosphere and portray character and stopping at nothing to ensure that his work took best advantage of the surrounding environment. The ensuing picture was more often than not a work of art.
One of his most famed images was immortalised in The Hague Museum in the Netherlands and featured the artist Pietro Annigoni at work on a portrait of Harry Oppenheimer’s wife, Bridget.
Feature photography was James Soullier’s passion, and his work in press photography was punctuated by countless iconic images, but his career can perhaps best be characterised by the fact that he was the only white photographer at the funeral of the Sharpeville massacre victims in 1960, and a single image that features James with his camera dangling from his neck as he assists a victim of the Loftus Versfeld rugby stadium stand collapse of 1970.
Soullier said that was never callous, but that he couldn’t afford to feel fear or pity while taking pictures - if he did, he wouldn’t be able to do his job of recording history as unobtrusively as possible. Only when he had the pictures he wanted did he allow himself to feel shock or compassion.
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