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Remembering David Goldblatt Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

25 June 2018

The South African photographer David Goldblatt passed away today at the age of 87. He was a mentor to two generations of South African photographers and chronicler of life under apartheid, which he captured with the eye of an artist.

Our Saturday Matinee featured Goldblatt just last year with an eight-minute interview about his series Ex-Offenders at the Scene of Crime.

In that series, he reacted to being robbed himself by taking offenders back to the scene of their crime to take their portrait. He wanted to meet them as "ordinary folk," he said. He himself was no judge, he pointed out, just a "curious guy." And there would be no profit in the venture.

It was at once both an artistic and human reaction to the trauma of being robbed, an approach that characterized Goldblatt's approach to his art -- and his life.

He was born in 1930 in Randfontein, South Africa, which is 25 miles west of Johannesburg. He took up black-and-white photography the same year apartheid was introduced, when he was 18. His subjects ranges from buildings to landscapes to the people of South Africa.

'You either respect freedom of expression or you don't.'

In the early 1960s, while he was working in his father's clothing shop, he started photographing the people of the Plots, Afrikaners who lived on smallholdings around his home town. He'd gotten to know them when they had come into the shop to buy clothes.

He continued photographing residents of his home town, including the miners, which led to his first boot On the Mines. From 1979 to 1980, he worked on a series of images of Boksburg, a whites-only suburb he described as "abnormal beyond belief."

In 1989, Goldblatt founded the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg, which has played a pivotal role in the training of South Africa's photographers. Goldblatt himself personally mentored some of them, providing darkroom facilities and even paying for materials.

In 1998 he was the first South African to be given a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2001, a retrospective of his work, David Goldblatt Fifty-One Years, began a tour of galleries and museums. He was one of the few South African artists to exhibit at Documenta 11 (2002) and Documenta 12 (2007) in Kassel, Germany. And he has exhibited extensively since then.

Goldblatt is the recipient of the 2006 Hasselblad award, the 2009 Henri Cartier-Bresson Award, the 2013 ICP Infinity Award and in 2016, he was awarded the Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by the Ministry of Culture of France.

John Edwin Mason, who teaches African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia, described Goldblatt's style as "slow photography in a fast food world." Goldblatt himself said he had been most influenced by writers like the South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, who wrote the foreward to his book on the mines.

The BBC has published a set of his images in David Goldblatt: South Africa's Chronicler of Life Under Apartheid. A larger selection of his work can be seen at the Web site for the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, which announced his death earlier today.

His archives have been promised to Yale.

He had planned to give the archives to the University of Capetown but came to believe freedom of expression, artistic freedom, and rights of artists were no longer protected by the University when it decided to remove artwork it deemed "problematic."

"You either respect freedom of expression or you don't," Goldblatt pointed out to the University in cancelling his plan to locate the archives there.

"I make all kinds of compromises in my life. I'm a sinner from way back in every conceivable way, but I will not compromise about my work," he said.

And he never did.

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