Nightly News   |  December 07, 2013

Photographer recounts shooting Mandela

A young American photographer snapped one of the most iconic photos of Nelson Mandela – the moment he was freed from jail. Now, he recollects on the former South African president and what his death means. NBC’s Ann Curry reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> finally tonight let's go back 24 years to a turning point here in south africa , the day nelson mandela walked out of prison a free man. one of the aim nlgs was taken by a young photographer and ann curry has his story tonight.

>> reporter: after decades of violent repression under south africa 's white apartheid rule, a symbol of resistance, nelson mandela , was suddenly being freed after 27 years in prison. the year was 1990 .

>> i didn't want to miss this photograph.

>> reporter: one of the journalists waiting on the other side of the prison gates was pulitzer prize winner photographer david turnley.

>> the gates open and he and winnie mandela walked out with their fists in the area.

>> reporter: he was suddenly photographing a spontaneous celebration in capetown.

>> there were 150,000 people outside going nuts waiting to see their leader.

>> reporter: that's when mandela stepped out on a balcony and spoke publicly for the first time since his release.

>> i think we've always experienced somebody when you feel like everything's going to be okay. that's how you feel when you're around mandela .

>> reporter: years later two young boys climbed onto man tell la's lap and one asked what seemed like a logical question.

>> "how could they put new prison for 27 years, you've never stolen anything." in classic mandela way he sort of paused and he said "sweetheart, i actually have stolen something, i stole freedom for our people."

>> reporter: you heard him say that?

>> it was kind of just one of those moments where as a photographer, the tears start to actually kind of cloud the ability to look through the viewfinder.

>> reporter: turnley also witnessed mandela 's visit to his old cell on robben island . there he saw the same unwavering dignity and resolve that carried mandela , south africa and the world through the worst of times and the best of times.

>> i think there will probably -- a moment where like probably all of us will take very deep stock of an incredible loss.

>> reporter: ann curry , nbc news, south africa .