Women singing, Newtown Squatter
1st September 2001
Digital print in pigment dyes
70 x 55 cm
Dutch Reformed Church, completed in 1984, Quelerina, Johannesburg
David Hassima Sahib's butchery before the start of forced removals and
demolitions under the Group Areas Act, Johannesburg, April 1976
David Hassima Sahib's butchery after the destruction of part of the building under the Group Areas Act, Johannesburg, March 8, 1996
XolaniShezi, flower-seller, Senderwood
Johannesburg, 1st April, 2000
Domestic workers waiting for the fahfee runner,
Hyde Park, Johannesburg, 21st February 2000
Curios on William Nicol Drive, Fourways,
Johannesburg, 19th February 2000.
by Sean O'Toole (December, 2002)
David Goldblatt's photographs have documented the prosaic details of South African life for over five decades now. Whether photographing the stolid white suburb of Boksburg, or recording the invisible assault of apartheid by taking an early morning bus ride with the transported of KwaNdebele, his photographs have consistently impressed because of their eloquent humanism.
Born in 1930, he is the son of Lithuanian Jews who fled the pogroms in the 1890's. His family ran a small men's wear business in Randfontein, a gold mining town southwest of Johannesburg. Although he took serendipitous photographs during his youth, his first obligation was to the family business. After the death of his father Eli Goldblatt in 1962, he sold the family business to pursue a career as a full time photographer. He compares the elation of his release from the duties of the family business as one of letting loose an untied balloon.
David Goldblatt's unerring photographic records of South African life have concentrated on landscape and structure, people and context. His output is predominantly rooted in that most turbulent of times, high apartheid. David Goldblatt, however, remains a prolific talent and his recent shift to colour photography has only served to enhance the photographer's revealing portraits of apartheid's aftermath - South Africa today.
"Goldblatt's rigorous, almost religious attention to detail - whether it be in a seemingly innocuous comma or the Coca-Cola sign in the window of a corner café - is one of the things that makes him the artist he is today."
Alex Dodd, M&G
, July 2, 1998
"In his attempts to remain dispassionate, Goldblatt has not always succeeded in avoiding the decorative trap. Yet his work is both seductive and beautiful. His mastery of the harsh qualities of South African light is unsurpassed."
Sunday Times, 06 September 1998
"Among Mr. Goldblatt's virtues as a photographer � what distinguishes him from a propagandist � is his refusal to telegraph or beseech, not because he is morally ambivalent toward his subjects but because reality, when you live in a complicated situation, is never easy."
Michael Kimmelman, New York Times, August 24, 2001
"His achievement, though, is as a photographer not of large or terrible events but of conditions and states. By focusing not on the central events of a nation's chronic crisis but on the specific textures, objects, and incidents of its daily experience, Goldblatt has compiled an overall indictment and a panoramic history."
David Frankel, Artforum, February, 2002
"Precise in description, Goldblatt's photographs are also acute in historical and political perception. They provide a sense of the texture of daily life, and an important piece of missing information regarding life under apartheid in South Africa."
Susan Kismaric, Associate Curator, The Museum of Modern Art
"Gradually I have come to realise that my concern with values has become a major preoccupation. If you had asked me about my motivations during the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, I wouldn't have expressed it this way. It is only now, looking back, that I see that this concern with values has been my most persistent thread. The reason this is so clear to me now, so long after the event, has to do with the end of apartheid.
When I started taking photographs again in 1998, after completing South Africa: the Structure of Things Then, I experienced no bump. It was almost a seamless transition; seamless in the sense that I found my concerns were exactly the same as during the apartheid years. This surprised me because during the years of apartheid there was obviously a much more potent sense of purpose and of concern.
It was then that I realised my concern is with values. Looking at Boksburg, for instance, I was asking myself how it was possible to be so apparently normal, moral, upright - which almost all those citizens were - in such a appallingly abnormal, immoral, bizarre situation? This goes back to values, to how one balances these extraordinary differences in values." (18.11.2002)
"Johannesburg is seldom a beautiful city, it has its rare moments. I can't honestly say that I love it. However I miss it when I am away and when I am in it I rejoice. This pretty much sums it up." (18.11.2002)
On Politics: "Certainly politics has always been on my mind, politics in the broadest sense. The Transported of KwaNdebele, was certainly the most explicitly political, while In Boksburg was a more oblique and muted engagement with politics. In all of the work I have done though I have been engaged with the consequences of our actions and of our values." (18.11.2002)
On Colour Photography: "I have been enjoying working in colour, but it is still a bit too colourful for me. One of the reasons why I didn't persist with colour in my personal work was because it was too sweet, too colourful. Using these new technological processes I desaturate most of the colour, I take colour out. This has made it more interesting to me." (18.11.2002)
'South African Family Stories: A Group Portrait', an extensively researched study of nine South African families currently on show at the KIT Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, includes family portraits photographed by David Goldblatt. These images will shortly be available in South Africa when Kwela Books publishes an English version of the catalogue accompanying the show.
As David Goldblatt made the transition from black and white to colour - a move so symbolically resonant in the post-independence era despite the fact that this change was actually prompted by technological developments in colour printing technologies - so to has his international career blossomed.
In 2001 a retrospective exhibition of David Goldblatt's work was held in the Axa Gallery, New York. 'David Goldblatt Fifty-One Years', co-curated by Corinne Diserens and Okwui Enwezor, was produced by the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona [MACBA] in collaboration with the Axa Gallery. It was exhibited at MACBA from February to May 2002, and is due to be exhibited in Rotterdam, Lisbon, Oxford, Brussels and Munich before coming to South Africa in 2004. David Goldblatt's photographic essays on Boksburg, as well as his recent studies of Johannesburg were on exhibition at Documenta 11, in Kassel, Germany in the month of September, 2002.
In 1989 David Goldblatt founded the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg, with the object of teaching visual literacy and photographic skills to young people, with particular emphasis on those disadvantaged by apartheid. The Workshop has been successful in creating an environment in which people of all races collaborate constructively. It operates under a full-time director and part-time teachers, six days per week from an old post office, qualifying about 120 students per annum, a number of whom, having completed advanced courses, are now working as professional photographers.
In the sixties David Goldblatt initiated a series of investigations into the mines surrounding Johannesburg. Writing in theNew York Times, Michael Kimmelman made the following observation. "His portraits of miners, like many of his best works, exercise a more subtle humanity." Kimmelman continues by stating that: "A picture of a black "team leader" pedalling a white mine captain on a bike nearly suggests Buster Keaton because of the way its wit tempers deeper emotion, the photograph respectfully acknowledging a viewer's ability to grasp its basic message without being lectured."
Goldblatt himself is less forgiving of the work from this period. "With regards the work I was doing in the sixties in the gold mines, I was probing and prodding my interest in the structures of the mines. At that stage I was teetering actually. I was concerned very largely with the graphic nature of what I was looking at. I think this was a bit of red herring for me. On The Mines is most unsatisfactory in this sense. It is the one project that has a distinct change in pace as it goes from beginning to end. The beginning is very much concerned with graphics and with conveying visual effects. I am still concerned with this, but to a lesser extent."
For a more detailed chronological overview of David Goldblatt's career, visit www.southphoto.com. The site includes a link to Michael Kimmelman's in-depth discussion of David Goldblatt's oeuvre.
Commenting on his future activities, David Goldblatt explains: "I have an exhibition coming up in the Kunst Palace in Dusseldorf in 2004, and I am doing a new piece of colour work for that, looking at rural South Africa. I am also looking at the asbestos situation here. I have been photographing people who have been affected by asbestos. I am also looking at some of the old mines."
Photographers' Gallery, London, 1974, 1986
Side Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1985
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1975
Photography Place, Sydney, 1975
Durban Art Gallery, 1977
SA National Gallery, Cape Town, 1983
Pretoria Art Gallery, 1983
Johannesburg Art Gallery, 1983
Various exhibitions since 1978 at the Market Theatre Galleries, Johannesburg
Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998
Netherlands Architecture Institute, Rotterdam, 1998-9
South African National Gallery, Cape Town, 1999
Various group shows including:
"South Africa: the Cordoned Heart", South Africa and the USA, 1986
Johannesburg Biennale 1995
"In/Sight, African Photographers, 1940 to the Present", Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1996
"Eye-Africa", Revue Noir, Cape Town, Europe and the USA [current]
"Blank_ Architecture, apartheid and after" Rotterdam and Berlin, 1998-99
"The Mask" a South Photographs retrospective, Bensusan Museum of Photography, Museum Africa, Johannesburg, 1999
A South Photographs collective exhibition, Area Gallery, Cape Town, 1999.
"Home", Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 2000
Henie Onstad, "Rhizomes of Memory" with Santu Mofokeng and George Hallett, Oslo, 2000.
Select ArtThrob Reviews:
David Goldblatt's 'Structures' at the JAG
by Kathryn Smith
David Goldblatt - 'Mostly Unseen' at the Goodman Gallery
by Sean O'Toole
'States of Emergence', at Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art
by Sean O'Toole
Documenta XI: Daily reflections
by Virginia MacKenny
Eye-catching moments from the Month of Photography
by Sue Williamson
South African National Gallery, Cape Town
Durban Art Gallery
Johannesburg Art Gallery
University of South Africa
University of the Witwatersrand
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
On The Mines, with Nadine Gordimer, Struik, Cape Town, 1973
Some Afrikaners Photographed, Murray Crawford, Johannesburg, 1975
Cape Dutch Homesteads, with Margaret Courtney-Clark and John Kench, Struik, Cape Town, 1981
In Boksburg, Gallery Press, Cape Town, 1982
Lifetimes: Under Apartheid, with Nadine Gordimer, Knopf, New York, 1986
The Transported of KwaNdebele, with Brenda Goldblatt and Phillip van Niekerk, Aperture, New York, 1989
South Africa: the Structure of Things Then, Oxford University Press, Cape Town, and Monacelli Press, New York, 1998
David Goldblatt 55, Phaidon Press Limited, London, 2001