In Memoriam: Johan Greybe

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved Johan Greybe. Johan was more than just the heart and soul of KAMERAZ; he was a Father, Grandfather, visionary, mentor, brother and a friend to many in the photography community. His departure leaves a void that will be deeply felt by all who had the privilege of knowing him. 

What follows is my attempt at trying to put pen to paper to pay tribute to a man that was larger than life (if not in h-e-i-g-h-t) in my best rendition of his writing style. . . 

One of Johan’s favorite Latin phrases was "De mortuis nihil nisi bonum" (Of the dead, say nothing but good). Johan, however, would have preferred a bit of humor over a tearful eulogy. He was a firm believer in the power of laughter and its ability to bring people together.

Hailing from Bloemfontein, Johan's journey with KAMERAZ began just over 42 years ago on May 1st, 1982, when he opened his original "hole in the wall" camera shop in Hillbrow. Without ever owning a camera himself, Johan took a bold leap into the unknown. "Audentes fortuna iuvat" (Fortune favors the bold) was a phrase he lived by. The shop, part of the Fripps franchise, primarily operated as a film collecting depot in the pre-OneHour Lab days. Despite fierce competition in Hillbrow, Johan's passion for photography and dedication to his customers helped the store flourish.

Johan often reminisced about the early days with a twinkle in his eye. One of his favourite stories was about his sleeping partner in the business (though, as he humorously clarified, they never shared a bed), whom he bought out a few years later. His ability to find humor in every situation was one of his most endearing qualities. "Omne initium est difficile" (Every beginning is difficult), he would say, reflecting on the challenges he faced and overcame. 

Along the way Johan slowly took all of us under his wing and welcomed us into the KAMERAZ family. Somehow seeing more potential and good in us than even we knew. These personal connections were what Johan cherished most about his work. It is through Johan’s deeply caring nature and strong leadership that our team now boasts over 30 people. Many of whom have been here longer than the “Boere-oorlog” as Johan once put it. 

He believed in building a family, not just a business. His warmth and charisma made everyone feel welcome, whether they were seasoned professionals or amateurs just starting their photographic journey. "He could sell a camera to a cat," as one regular fondly put it. You always knew that when you walked through that door (whether for the first time or after a 10 year hiatus) you could count on being greeted by Johan with a quick pause…. A deep, searching look . . . And then a S-L-A-P that-turned-into-a-very-firm-handshake that immediately made you feel welcome in the KAMERAZ home and like you never left.

One of Johan’s favorite stories was about the early days when a customer mistook him for a film director because of his enthusiastic explanations and gesticulations. His knack for storytelling was legendary. "Carpe diem" (Seize the day) was more than just a saying for Johan; it was a way of life. He often regaled us with tales from his childhood in Bloemfontein, where his mother, a dedicated nurse, instilled in him the values of empathy and compassion. "Money's not everything," she would say, a sentiment Johan carried into his own business philosophy.

Johan was also an accomplished singer/songwriter under the pseudonym “Johnny Come Lately”. Often he would disappear in the afternoons, for weeks on end, without so much as a word. . . Then suddenly on a slow morning in the shop, he would spring his latest musical creation upon us at F-U-L-L blast. His songs were often deeply rooted in real world events and were a means for Johan to express his feelings towards them. One of his songs is currently in existence on our Youtube channel for the keen eyed among you who can find it (search for Magellaan).

Johan was not just a business owner; he was a community builder. He believed in giving back and often supported local events and workshops that fostered growth and learning in the photography world. His legacy is one of generosity, creativity, and a deep-seated love for the art of photography.

Johan's leadership style was both inspiring and inclusive. He often wrote "fireside chats" and weekly emails to us, blending humor, wisdom, and a touch of philosophy. He encouraged open dialogue and valued the input of every member of the KAMERAZ family. "Building one's brand doesn't have to be a conscious effort; the best do it subconsciously by simply 'doing my job,'" he would say, emphasizing the importance of authenticity and dedication.

In one of those emails, Johan titled it: “NEW YEAR: TAKE HART, BE BRAVE”

Words that certainly ring true at this moment. Johan’s passing signifies a turning point for KAMERAZ. One of profound sorrow and mourning. It definitely will be seen as a ‘New Year’ of sorts for those he has left behind. One in which we will need to dig deep and take the above to hart (sic). 

Johan leaves behind a legacy that will endure in the hearts of those he touched. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family during this difficult time. We, his colleagues and friends, will strive to honor his memory by continuing the work he loved so dearly and ensuring that KAMERAZ remains a beacon of photographic excellence and community spirit.

"Tempus fugit, amor manet" (Time flies, love remains). Johan Greybe, your light may have dimmed, but the memories and impact you left behind will continue to shine brightly. May you rest in peace, dear friend.

I hope that one day we will meet again. In your own words: “But until then, let's not take prisoners, exiles or American Express.” … Groete eet julle groente

We will miss you, Johan. 

Words by Ryan

Details for Memorial Service:

Date: 06 June 2024

Time: 14:00

Location: KAMERAZ, Stonemill Office Park, Greenstone House, Darrenwood, JHB. Please use the entrance on Danie Street for this event. 


Personal Notes:

Please feel free to share your memories and condolences in the comments below. Your stories and tributes will be compiled and shared with Johan’s family as a testament to his lasting impact on us all.