By Samuel Masinter ’04
Nelson Mandela loomed so large in history that he seemed out of place sitting quietly on
[May 12, 2005] Diane Bondareff, a New York photographer, stood next to me in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria in Midtown Manhattan. It was May 2005, my first year as a “Green Dean” writer-editor at Amherst, and my first major photo assignment. We were with Jide Zeitlin ’85, chairman-elect of the board of trustees, waiting for an update on the morning’s schedule. Zeitlin asked, “Are you ready?”
Soon I would step into a private elevator, wearing a red wristband that cleared me through three levels of security into Nelson Mandela’s suite. I was filling in for Frank Ward, Amherst’s photographer for almost as long as I’d been alive. I was terrified.
Photo by Diane Bondareff
The suite was filled with people: the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service; Mandela’s own security; Board Chairman Amos Hostetter ’58 and his family; and then-President Tony Marx, his wife and two young children. It took me a minute to see Mandela, a man who loomed so large in history that he seemed out of place sitting quietly on a couch and smiling as everyone in the room orbited around him.
I started taking pictures of everything. Twice. Three times, just in case. I filled up my first of only three memory cards in just a few minutes. I was changing cards when Marx asked if I “wanted to meet him.” I slung my camera across my back and Marx made the introduction. Mandela smiled. We shook hands. He made small talk. Bondareff took a photo of us.
We were hurried out of the room, escorted through empty hallways and across a street cleared by the NYPD. Black SUVs with flashing red and blue lights surrounded the hotel. Five minutes later I was in the third row of a standing-room-only crowd in St. Bartholomew’s Church, hunched over a camera and hoping the telephoto lens I had would give me the shot I needed. Mandela entered the church to a standing ovation. I watched the entire event through a viewfinder.
Photo at right by Samuel Masinter ’04 who is director of college relations at Smith.