Archive: Issue No. 74, October 2003

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David Goldblatt

Man on a bench, Joubert Park, Johannesburg, 1975

David Goldblatt

Child minder, Joubert Park, Johannesburg, 1975

David Goldblatt

Woman with pierced ear Joubert Park, Johannesburg, 1975

David Goldblatt

Windmills, Ventersburg, Free State. 6 August 2003

David Goldblatt

Portal, Goegevonden, North-West Province. 16 December 2002

The particulars of life elsewhere
by Kim Gurney

David Goldblatt is not a man for resting on his laurels. After five decades behind the lens, he would be more than justified to hang up his camera and bask in the formidable achievements of his career. Instead, he has converted a four-wheel drive into a camper van to travel the country in his continual search for new images. Goldblatt shrugs in explanation and says plainly: "I love two things: South Africa and photography."

Those passions are certainly evident in his latest exhibition at Cape Town's Michael Stevenson Contemporary. An intriguing mix of old and new, the exhibition structure is three-fold: portraits, landscapes and a photographic narrative on the effects of asbestos mining.

The portraits, called Particulars, comprises images from his new book of the same name. The 26 black-and-white images mostly date back to 1975 and differ from his usual portraits because they zoom in on body parts. In that quintessentially Goldblatt style, the photographs tell a greater story by focusing in on the human detail that condenses a whole host of meaning into one striking image.

Intersections documents in colour the harsh beauty of rural South Africa. Originally, Goldblatt intended to photograph the 120 points in the country where lines of latitude and longitude intersect but abandoned this idea for a more serendipitous journey into the platteland. The results are striking, from a dead jackal strung up on a farm fence to the cruel beauty of a landscape littered with blue asbestos.

Goldblatt is no stranger to documenting the effects of mining and his recent Asbestos series shows the devastation of pollution and disease in a Northern Cape community. The death of a close friend from mesothelioma, a cancer believed to be caused by blue asbestos, motivated this series.

Goldblatt manages to capture arresting and intimate photographs - as of Herman Kabari suffering from the final stages of fatal lung cancer and mesothelioma. Yet his subjects somehow retain their dignity and sense of personal agency in a frank but touching exchange with the viewer.

If anything, his recent shift to colour enhances this effect. In black-and-white, the images might appear particularly stark and oppressive. In colour, the force of the image remains while lending poignancy to some small detail that in turn speaks of a greater truth. The bright 'one way' sign in the corner of a photograph of an adit on the Langley asbestos mine in Prieska catches the eye. In another, Boesman Kgololo, a former truck driver on an asbestos mine, is seated at a table suffering from lung disease with a proudly displayed Gefco certificate hung behind him.

Unlike many other socially critical photographers, the demise of apartheid has not induced in Goldblatt a bout of searching for a new raison d'etre. His work goes on much as before. Goldblatt ascribes this continuity to his pre-occupation with communicating a sense of the values his subjects espouse and the contradictions between them.

The stark white walls of the Michael Stevenson gallery form an ideal environment to offset the dramatic scale and precision of Goldblatt's colour prints, which are digitally produced using a cutting-edge technique. The results are compelling.

October 1 - 25