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Matinee: 'Interview with David Goldblatt' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

27 May 2017

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 189th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Interview with David Goldblatt.

The South African photographer David Goldblatt, who was born in 1930, began taking his photography seriously in his thirties. He became the first South African to be given a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is the recipient of the 2006 Hasselblad award, the 2009 Henri Cartier-Bresson Award and the 2013 ICP Infinity Award.

But this eight-minute video isn't about his professional achievements. It's about Ex-Offenders at the Scene of Crime, his latest project, which he began in 2008.

"We have a very high crime rate in South Africa," he begins. Almost everyone has been a victim of violent crime, he explains. He and his wife have both been robbed by men with pistols and knives. And he felt he had to react to that somehow.

"I'm not a fighter, I don't know karate, I don't know how to use a gun, really use it, I don't know how to use a knife," he admits.

He and his wife have both been robbed by men with pistols and knives. And he felt he had to react to that somehow.

So he thought he'd use a different approach. He'd try to meet a few people who had been in trouble with the law.

His idea was to take them back to the scene of the crime they were alleged to have committed (not all of them were convicted). Why? So he could take a portrait of them.

He thought it might be a cathartic moment for them. And perhaps for their victims.

He focused on people who were on parole or freed, not in prison where they were known by their numbers and dressed anonymously in orange jumpsuits. He wanted to meet them as "ordinary folk," as he puts it.

He offered them a deal. He would take their portrait and record the story of their life. "I'm asking something of them that's painful and difficult to do," he recognized. So he offered to pay them. In exchange, they would sign a release to publish and exhibit the work.

He also pointed out to them that this was not a profit-making venture. If any money came from the work, he promised to donate it organizations that deal with offenders or "to assist people who have been badly damaged perhaps by the criminal justice system or even before that."

It's the first time many of them had been able to tell their story without being judged, he says. He's not a judge, just "a curious guy." So they placed their trust in him.

There's plenty of bellowing about law and order these days. But we were struck by Goldblatt's soft voice as he described what can only be called a brave gesture. To meet the assailant. To return to the scene with them. To listen to the person who had committed the crime tell the story of their life. And to take not a mug shot but a portrait.

There is nothing about forgiveness here or turning the other cheek. But there is something about providing the opportunity to take responsibility and, perhaps, to express regret. To become something better than what you have been.

And that's no small thing.

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