Shaun Harris, the death and times of a photographer mentor-turned copyright activist

By Edward Tsumele

The sudden death of respected photographer Shaum Earl  Harris, which had it not been for arts professional” Yusrah Bardien, who posted the information on her Facebook page over the weekend would have gone unnoticed has touched many people who knew the photographer and his work.

Harris was not just another photographer, but was a beautiful human being, who was humble, but was a serious visionary and intellectually inclined, person especially to those he was comfortable with.

I had known Harries for years and we often shared our views about the state of the media in the country whenever we chance met when he was still living in Yeoville, Johannesburg, and now and then when he would visit Johannesburg from his Free state base.

I had also known him as a media activist when he launched an educational independent publication known called Kitso years back. This is a publication that was educational in its editorial thrust and it is the same publication where many young writers would get a chance to see their names in print.

That publication in a form of  a print monthly publication was an independent voice for independent journalism way back in the 1990s. He did not have plenty resources to produce this paper, but he did. He relied on professional journalists who would give their time and skills to contribute, as well as young photographers and writers who approached him to contribute pieces to this publication.

I remember in the late 1000s how  after knocking off from my daily job at Sowetan where I worked as an entertainment reporter, I did not mind before going home, passing through Harries’ flat in Yeoville to assist with the entertainment guide as my bit of  contribution to the vision he had started.  I was not the only professional journalist he asked to assist. Many of us never asked for payment for our contributions as we simply believed in the vision, and we wanted to see it succeed.

It was during that time and in later years that I would meet many a young photographer and writer who would tell me that they were being mentored by Harris. He did all this wonderful work of mentoring young writers and photographers quietly. That was his nature as he seemed to be someone who did not believe in self glory. He simply believed in the transformation of a human mind to be useful in the society they found themselves. Harris was an unsung hero who worked with many young people who wanted a step in door into the media. Its not for me to dwell into that for those who benefitted from his generosity of spirit and foresight can speak for themselves.

Even when he was in Free state whenever he visited Johannesburg, and we would bump on each other, he remained the same Harris who believed in community development through democratising access to  information through independent journalism.

When people speak fondly of Harris as a visionary and recently as a copyright activist, they are telling nothing but the truth about Harris.

“Photographer Shaun Earl Harris has passed away ‘peacefully in the Free State, South Africa’. The Jamaica-born South African photographer waged a tireless campaign against copyright abuse of photographers in South Africa. In a protracted court case, Harris was suing the government for its use of his image of Nelson Mandela. Released at the time of Mandela’s passing, court papers claim it clocked almost 6 million uses worldwide and Harris said he wasn’t paid a cent for them. I reported here…/r21bn-copyright-claim-over… and here…/wrath-of-the-smiling-mandela…. I spoke to Harris quite often. He was always energised and chatty, busy with community projects in QwaQwa. He said the abuse of his copyright almost destroyed him and would never stop fighting impunity from corporations and governments. The family has launched a fundraising campaign for his funeral and to continue his fight. It’s over here #ShaunEarlHarris Thanks for alerting me Yusrah Bardien,” wrote veteran arts journalist Charl Blignaut  in a post on his Facebook page.

Here the writer is alluding to the fact that the photographer died before he got justice for the use of his copyrighted property without compensation by the powerful of this world. It is an injustice that will haunt for a long time those who wronged him.

CITYLIFE/ARTS would like to say Shaun Earl Harris, may your Soul Rest in peace..

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