RIP J. Karel de Vries

de-vries_karelIBRO Boxing Historian and famed Marine photographer J. Karel de Vries passed away on April 10, 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa. He was 89.

Karel was born in Worcester, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa on December 27, 1922. As a Marine photographer Karel loved ships and created a magnificent 50 year record of shipping at the Cape.

His other great love was boxing. He had a rare collection of boxing magazines, The Ring, that dates back to 1922. He was a long standing member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO) and was their resident boxing historian on all aspects of boxing in South Africa.

He took pictures of ships on arrival and their crews. “He would develop the film, hand print the photograph (now a rare craft) and sell the pictures to those on board. In the liner companies heyday (1950s and 1960s) he made a reasonable living as many seafarers wanted photographs of their ships,” wrote shipping columnist Brian Ingpen.

A friend and former shipping reporter Ian Shiffman, now business manager of Sunday Times Travel Weekly, said that he knew de Vries from back in the 1950s. “I took photographs as a hobby and later was a shipping reporter from 1992 to 1999 for Weekend Argus, when the paper dedicated an entire back page to shipping.

He said de Vries went on a voyage along the coast of South Africa after World War II with an American ship called Robin Line Freighter, and took pictures of the crew. “After the trip, her captain asked Karel to take pictures of the ship. That was how he got started.”

He said that Karel used a big box camera back then. “He developed his own negatives at an office he rented on the Foreshore. But in later years the rent became too high, so he worked from home. Later his eyesight deteriorated and he stopped taking pictures.”

Once a month the shipping fraternity would meet and watch a slideshow of pictures taken of ships visiting the port. They were called themselves the A Berth Gang. Karel was exceptionally knowledgeable about American Cargo ships.

His wife Hermien de Vries said, “We often entertained members of ships’ crews… He made many friends who invited us to come and stay in America. Well, we finally took them up on that offer in 1983. We were in the States for five weeks and only stayed in a hotel for two nights…” Karel’s father was a portrait photographer. When Karel matriculated from Sacs he joined the business.”

Of his passion for boxing, his wife said: “He has every copy of The Ring from when it was first printed in the year he was born - in 1922 - bound in foles, year by year. He also enjoyed cricket, but stopped playing because matches were usually on a Saturday and this coincided with ships leaving the port.”

His stepdaughter Pamela Burns said, “He was a loving stepfather to me and my sister, Sheila.   He and my Mom, Hermien, married in 1958 and had an amazingly good marriage. He also loved jazz, he would thump away to the music, old vinyl, of course.   He kept a huge correspondence going with all the buddies he made through shipping and boxing.   It was amazing to go through the letters, cards, cuttings and paraphernalia that people sent to him.    He did not throw any correspondence away and treasured the friendships that he had made through boxing and shipping.   He was like a kid when he went to the post office to see if his magazines, books or, especially, a letter from a friend had arrived.   This correspondence was a blessing as he often complained that all his friends in Cape Town had died.   He loved banging out a letter to someone (often a letter of complaint that the “Ring” magazine had failed to arrive on time) on his old dilapidated typewriter - no modern stuff like and electric one! I would like him to be remembered as a truly upright person, a man of integrity, a loyal friend and a great husband and father.”

Karel is survived by his wife Hermien and stepdaughters Pamela Burns and Sheila Addison.

Melanie Peters and Pamela Burns contributed to this article.

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