Biography

Listen To Autobiography

Matthew Willman is a South African based photographer & Artist. He has expressed himself through an extraordinary body of work which includes writing, storytelling and exhibition.

Willman has gained over 24 years’ experience working for some of the world’s foremost institutions in the field of visual communication, development, visual arts and leadership. A true global citizen, Willman has worked in 42 countries tailoring his inventive brand of communication to the needs of an array of clients which have included: Oxfam International, The World Health Organisation, The Nelson Mandela Foundation, The Bill Clinton Presidential Library, The Vodafone Foundation, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Centre, Robben Island Museum and The European Commission.

In 2019 Willman narrated and produced a short film documentary on the life of Nelson Mandela which was nominated and won an Emmy award in the USA.

Willman has had the pleasure of being commissioned to photograph individuals from a cross-section of the global community. Private commissions include: US Presidents Barack Obama & President Bill Clinton, 6 South African Presidents, Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Annie Lennox. Others include 22 Presidents, 12 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and a host of sports personalities, musicians, politicians and philanthropists.

Perhaps one of Willman’s greatest achievements was his significant contribution to the recording of the process of South Africa’s democratic change. This occurred both in his work as a commissioned photographer to the Nelson Mandela Foundation and through ten years working with Mr Mandela himself. In 2003 Matthew was commissioned to archive and document the life and times of Nelson Mandela for the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Over the years this afforded him many incredibly many intimate experiences with a man who for Willman embodies the very spirit and conviction we all possess as South Africans. His collection of work is now central to the Mandela Centre of Memory & Presidential Library in Johannesburg.

One of my greatest weaknesses is that I love to be loved. As a solo artist this can be a deeply intimate and extraordinarily beautiful journey. I express life first through the camera, a light tight box in my hands that is an extension of my mind enabling me to remain relevant and to have a voice in the world.

Early on in my career I chose to let go of the confines of security and I went out into the world seeking not only adventure but a greater understanding of who we are and what we shape ourselves to be. In the process photography has afforded me many intimate experiences becoming my window into other worlds.

My images are inherently focused on the positive, a way of celebrating life within all its diversity. Yet it is my art and the medium of mixed media that allows me to take my original images and interpret my own thoughts and opinion without reserve. 

I seek only to create in life. I have learnt that ‘creation’ is the essence of being human, to be able to love, beginning first as a fleeting vision and an idea. Only once that idea 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.

I don’t attempt to arrive at a final destination. Each finished work of art is a tiny episodic chapter expressing who I am and the story I’m telling.

Artist Statement

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
  • 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