During Madiba’s illness last year and before he passed away, South Africans started to say their goodbyes individually. For Adrian Steirn, an Australian photographer with a long love affair with South Africa (you could say we’ve adopted him or vice versa), the best way he could do that was through his craft.

When he’s not shooting big names, Steirn is the official photographer for WWF – shooting big game or working as the director of the Ginkgo Agency, a content-creation company. Though he made his name capturing images of many famous people (from Bono to Bill Gates), photographing Madiba has been the project closest to Steirn’s heart – and it shows in his intimate photographs of the great man.

His connection with Madiba led Steirn to create a series called 21 Icons, a series of photographs and films of “men and women who lead extraordinary lives that have a positive impact on those around them”.

“Wherever I take photographs in the world, people always ask about Madiba. It got me thinking about his legacy and what it means to both the country and the world. This brought me to the realisation that he had not acted alone and that there were many more distinguished, wonderful and worthy people that have made South Africa what it is.”

#BestAdvice: Take risks
“If I have one piece of advice to give, it would be that I would not be anywhere today without having taken a number of risks: in terms of my time, my passion and my reputation. In today’s world – where people are risk-averse – not many people realise that we remember lives that involve risk and adversity. In the past there was a recognition that it’s impossible to make anything happen without putting yourself in danger; that kind of pioneering spirit is what brought us many of the world’s great inventions and ideas. Today, people are more concerned about whether they have insurance. Seeing opportunity and taking it is what has driven my career, and what has put me where I am today. You can’t do that without taking a chance and backing yourself.”

*By Tudor Caradoc-Davies