David Goldblatt – speaking via Kodak Tri-X

While in South Africa last week we had a chance to interview David Goldblatt at his TJ exhibit in the Goodman Gallery Johannesburg.  Goldblatt was born in 1930 in Randfontein, South Africa and since the early 1960s he has devoted all of his time to photography.  He continues teaching visual literacy and photographic skills to young people, with particular emphasis on those disadvantaged by apartheid. In 1998 he was the first South African to be given a one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.

He told us “I don’t regard myself as a historian of the country, I dabble, I look at little bits. My photography is always about particulars, never universals, and I don’t generalize.”  he said about himself  “… And from time to time I exhibit those bits and pieces.  I hope and even I would claim that they do reflect something of the values of this country. … and in a small way, a tiny way,  a fragmented way that’s what my shows I suppose are about at this particular juncture.  During the years of apartheid I showed my work  largely in protest against apartheid.  I have to say though that my way of working is oblique I’m not confrontational on the whole, but yes this is to me the essential ingredient that I have for country.”

He thought of leaving for Israel, unable to imagine bringing up children is such a brutal state. And yet, something held him in South Africa, a fascination about Afrikaners: ‘in spite of myself, [I began to feel] that I liked many of them…. there was a warm straightforwardness and an earthiness in many of these people’. He could not reconcile his contradictory feelings of liking, revulsion and fear that Afrikaners aroused in him. David became intent upon trying to understand those who had bullied him and now oppressed the black majority of the country.

To get closer to Afrikaners, and the South Africa they were creating, he became an itinerant portrait photographer: an observer, probing everyday life, from rural districts to busy street corners. The superb photographs he captured, packed with symbolism and metaphor, contrasts and irony, have become a celebrated record of South African social history.David found metaphors in buildings and landscapes, kitchen furniture and crowd scenes. His prolific work has yielded a unique sense of the ‘texture of daily life’ in South Africa. He always worked in black and white, avoiding colour and ‘its tendency towards prettiness’. (http://www.capetown.at/letters/afrikaners.htm)

The purpose of our interview was for his views on the World Cup’s impact on his native country.  In June 2009 he was looking for a way to photograph Soccer City in a way express his thoughts.  He found a vantage over the ruins of a visionary theme park that was once across the road from where the stadium was built.  Just outside of Soweto, Share World was open to all a decade before Mandela was elected.  Sadly it failed and ironically an 800 million Rand stadium was constructed to host the global audience and the theme park became a parking lot for World cup fans.

This is a part of a larger piece on the impact of the World Cup that will air 17 November as part of ESPN’s coverage of the Mandela Cup in Cape Town where the US team will play a friendly against Bafana Bafana.

In this digital age he prefers to shoot with his 4×5 view camera and uses a lab in Cape Town.  The digital back Hasselblad is for when he finds himself in tight quarters.  Kodak Tri-X film (ASA 400) has been the long time standard of black & white photography and without the knowledge of how long the celluloid will continue to be manufactured he is contemplating buying a large supply as a reserve.

The exhibit is open at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
and Closes 6 November
Gallery Hours
Tue-Fri 9h00-17h30
Sat 9h30-16h00
163 Jan Smuts Ave Parkwood, Johannesburg


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