South African Photographs

/ David Goldblatt


Largest NYC Exhibition of Works by the Highly Regarded
South African Photographer Since 2001

New York, NY – The Jewish Museum will present South African Photographs : David Goldblatt, an exhibition of 150 black-and-white silver gelatin prints taken between 1948 and 2009, from May 2 through September 19, 2010. The photographs on view focus on South Africa’s human landscape in the apartheid and post-apartheid eras. South African Photographs : David Goldblatt is the largest New York City exhibition of Goldblatt’s work since 2001.

For more than half a century, David Goldblatt has been photographing his native South Africa, documenting the social, cultural and economic divides that characterize the country. Recipient of the 2009 Henri Cartier-Bresson Award and the prestigious 2006 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography, David Goldblatt is his country’s most distinguished photographer.

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A 1960 Silver gelatin print of children playing in Doornfontein, Johannesburg by David Goldblatt. AP Photo/The Jewish Museum, courtesy of David Goldblatt and the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

Goldblatt’s photographs expose the complex and evolving nature of apartheid through the diversity and subtlety of his approach. He has not documented major political events or horrifying incidents of violence. Instead, he focuses on the details of daily life and the world of ordinary people, a world where the apartheid system penetrates every aspect of society. He is constantly searching for the substance beneath the surface of human situations. As Nadine Gordimer comments in the exhibition audio guide, Goldblatt captures “…these moments when everything that has happened to an individual is somehow in that image at that time. All the person has felt and known is contained, indeed, in the way he comports himself, the way he’s sitting, the way he looks, and the kind of setting in which he is.” Goldblatt frequently addresses a complex question in his work : how is it possible to be reasonable, decent, and law-abiding, and at the same time, complicit in and even actively supportive of a system that is fundamentally immoral and evil ? Each photograph in this exhibition is an intimate portrayal of a culture living with racism and injustice.

David Goldblatt has used his camera to explore South Africa’s mines ; the descendants of seventeenth-century Dutch settlers called Afrikaners who were the architects of apartheid ; life in Boksburg, a small middle-class white community ; the Bantustans or “puppet states” in which blacks were forced to live ; structures built for purposes ranging from shelter to commemoration ; and Johannesburg, the city in which Goldblatt lives.

The photographer once wrote, “I am neither an activist nor a missionary. Yet I had begun to realize an involvement with this place and the people among whom I lived that would not be stilled and that I needed to grasp and probe. I wanted to explore the specifics of our lives, not in theories but in the grit and taste and touch of things, and to bring those specifics into that particular coherence that the camera both enables and demands.”

David Goldblatt has been photographing the changing political landscape of his country for more than five decades. He is descended from Lithuanian Jews who fled Europe in the 1890s to escape religious persecution. His father passed on to him, the artist said, “a strong sense of outrage at anything that smacked of racism.” Growing up in segregated South Africa, he witnessed the deep humiliation and discrimination suffered by blacks and experienced anti-Semitism personally. These experiences have informed his work.

Goldblatt’s written commentary is an essential part of his work and is presented throughout the exhibition in the texts and labels that accompany the photographs. A context room in the exhibition features a timeline juxtaposing events in South African history and David Goldblatt’s life ; books published by the photographer ; photography magazines that inspired him ; a large map of South Africa ; and a 22-minute excerpt of David Goldblatt : In Black and White, a 1985 film originally aired on Channel 4 Television in Great Britain.


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