'During 2011 I began to think of the possibility of doing a portrait of Nelson Mandela. I had seen many portraits of him but most of them seemed to lack the necessary gravitas I felt he deserved. I knew that as he was by now advanced in years I should not waste any time. I tried various routes to gain permission but found it very difficult. Eventually after about eighteen months the project was approved ... I hastily booked a ticket from London and prepared all my equipment ... At the Nelson Mandela Foundation offices I received a courteous welcome and I was eventually taken to a room next door to his office to await Mr Mandela's arrival. As I was waiting I had the rare privilege of hearing through the open door Mr Mandela, his wife and staff members singing happy birthday to Archbishop Tutu over the telephone.
I was introduced to Mr Mandela in his office and found him most welcoming and friendly. As I was preparing my equipment we chatted briefly. To begin with I tried to be cautiously objective being mindful of the mythology surrounding the man. However, I soon experienced his legendary charisma, presence and dignity. I had a strong sense of benign authority. I could well imagine the enormous effect he would have on those with whom he engaged in politics and matters of state.
... As I began taking photographs Mr Mandela continued to smile with great charm. I had to ask him politely whether he would please not smile so engagingly, as my intention was to produce rather a serious image. It was interesting to observe how hard he needed to concentrate in order to achieve this. As his smile gradually began to fade I continued to take photographs and it was these images with just the hint of a smile remaining, which I used for the final portrait.' Paul Emsley [excerpts from Our Madiba - Stories and reflections from those who met Nelson Mandela, Compiled by Melanie Verwoerd. Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2014]
Paul Emsley: New Work, The Redfern Gallery, London, 2017 (illus. cat. p. 31)