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A legend – now on his own time

24 January 2017

I met Jannie Herbst in 1997. The first issue of Leisure Wheels was in the making, and Jannie and the late Johann van Loggerenberg needed an apprentice to help with the legwork for the new magazine. I joined the small team not long after that meeting and soon realised that I was in the company of two printing industry legends. A few months into the job, Jannie sent me on assignment to Magoebaskloof with former Mitsubishi Motors public relations man Bennie van Rensberg, in a Colt bakkie.

I was to photograph a 4×4 trip and do a short write-up. By then I had obviously figured out that Jannie was quite the photographic legend. So keen to impress, I decided my old, basic Pentax 35mm SLR was just not going to cut it. So I borrowed a friend’s SLR camera with a fancy motor drive for the shutter so that I didn’t miss any action. And so it happened that I went 4×4-ing with Bennie and the Colt in the beautiful Magoebaskloof. A most enjoyable outing, it must be said. In the end I shot three rolls of slide film, just to make sure I get plenty of good stuff for Jannie. Back in Joburg, the three rolls of film were handed in to be developed, and although I thought it may be a bit early for a raise in salary, seeing that I had been in Leisure Wheels’ employ only for about two months, some praise from legendary photographer Jannie was definitely on the cards.

The next morning I arrived at the office. Jannie was unusually quiet. Then he called me over, with a grunt. Something did not seem quite right. “What is… that?” Jannie managed, clearly trying to restrain himself, pointing at a light table upon which were sprawled three rolls of film. “Ah, those must be my Magoebaskloof photos!” I said in a most upbeat manner, pretending not to recognise the sensation of an impending nuclear explosion. Jannie stared at me. For at least two minutes.

“Photos?” he finally said. “You call those photos? They are not photos. There is not a single usable image in there! Go and have a look yourself.”  He was right. All the images were underexposed; too dark to use. Not familiar with the fancier camera, I had got a setting wrong, and without an LCD screen on the back of the camera (as is now the norm), I had not realised the error. It was a case of fait accompli. At the time, Jannie had just started experimenting with a new computer programme called Photoshop, and after scanning some of my photos on a drum scanner, he used the programme to successfully lighten two images.

They were still not great, but at least you could see some 4×4s in a forest. Jannie Herbst, a true motoring media legend is now going to take a well-deserved break. He was a tough but fair taskmaster, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Over the past 18 years I’ve learnt a heck of a lot from him. Jannie and his wife Maryke now have the opportunity to travel the world at their leisure. We wish them many happy travelling miles. Hamba kahle, Uncle Jan. Hamba kahle.