“South African Photographer David Goldblatt Honored by Centre Pompidou,” By Elena Martinique

“South African Photographer David Goldblatt Honored by Centre Pompidou”

By Elena Martinique


A key figure in the South African photographic scene and an iconic exponent of politically-committed documentary image-making, David Goldblatt has maintained his distinct and extraordinary tension between subject, territory, politics and representation for forty years. Rejecting the idea of photography being a weapon, he favors a photographic language that is simple, yet intense.

The work of this acclaimed South African photographer will soon be honored at the Center Pompidou in a large-scale retrospective. His first exhibition in France, it will feature over two hundred photographs and a hundred-odd previously unpublished documents, spanning the entire Goldblatt’s output, from lesser-known early works to his most recent photographs.

In addition, there will be a screening of seven short films specially made for the show, featuring Goldblatt providing insights into his works.

Left: David Goldblatt – At a meeting of the Voortrekkers in the suburb of Whitfield, Boksburg. June 1980, 1980 / Right: David Goldblatt – Particulars – Woman With Pierced Ear, 1975

Exploring the Complex History of South Africa

Unrestrictedly exploring his native country through photography since the 1960s, David Goldblatt has scrupulously examined its complex history, including the introduction of Apartheid, its development and demise. Focusing on specific places he knows well, he was able to find the most apposite form to express its complexity, never adopting already-existing photographic solutions.

Guided by his personal story and vision of life, his photographs are characterized by his belief in equality and tolerance and an understanding of people from other cultures and religions. These images reflect the social and political values of the individuals or social groups who build and live in them.

One of his most acclaimed series is Structures, where he explored the life of the small-scale Afrikaner farmers in the wake of Apartheid.

Left: David Goldblatt – On the corner of Commissioner and Eloff Streets, 1979 / Right: David Goldblatt – Shop assistant, Orlando West, 1972, 1972

Exhibition Highlights

Spanning his entire career, the exhibition includes some of his most celebrated bodies of work.

The selection includes series Particulars created in the 1970s that captures the lives of people in South Africa’s gold and platinum mines and in the townships and suburbs of Johannesburg; the series Some Afrikaners Photographed that explore the artist’s relationship with Afrikaners he has met in his father’s clothing shop in Randfontein; the series In Boksburg, where the artist captured everyday scenes in a legally white-only town on the eastern periphery of Johannesburg which was heavily dependent on black labor; the series The Transported of KwaNdebele from 1989 that talks about the workers of an apartheid tribal homeland for blacks, KwaNdebele; among others.

Left: David Goldblatt – Baby in its crib in a rooming house, Soper Road, Hillbrow, Johannesburg. March 1973 / Right: David Goldblatt – An office worker from Tsmeb on holiday, in a rooming house on Abel Road, Hillbrow, March 1973

David Goldblatt at Centre Pompidou

In 1985, the artist explained for De Arte magazine:

I think that photography is a medium that somehow enables me to relate to the world around me and relate the world around me to me.

The exhibition David Goldblatt will be on view at the Center Pompidou in Paris in Gallery 4 on level 1, from February 21st until May 7th, 2018. It is curated by Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, photography department at the Musée national d’art modern. It will be accompanied by a catalog David Goldblatt: Structures of Dominion and Democracy created under the guidance of the exhibition curator.


Slideshow: David Goldblatt – A farmer’s son with his nursemaid, Heimweeberg, Nietverdiend, 1964; Wolwekraal-Marabastad route: In the hope of sleep, amny, after sitting down, cover their faces with cloths or rugs or caps; some try to cushion their heads, 1983; The dethroning of Cecil John Rhodes, after the throwing of human faeces on the statue and the agreement of the University to the demands of students for its removal. The University of Cape Town, 9 April 2015, 2015; The 1000 seat Sanlam Auditorium of the University of Johannesburg, destroyed by arson at 02:00 on 15 May 2016, 2016; Pedestrian bridge over the Cape Town-Johannesburg railway line in the village of Leeu Gamka (population about 2000). Apartheid law required that all public amenities had to be racially segregated. Accordingly, from about 1955, the people of Leeu Gamka crossed this bridge in two streams – “White” and “Non-White”. Since 1992 the apartheid laws and notice boards have gone but the steel divider remains. 30 August 2016, 2016; Marabastad-Waterval route: for most of the people in this bus, the cycle will start again tomorrow at between 2 and 3 am, 1984; Making a coffin for the body of a neighbour’s servant whose family could not afford one, Bootha Plots, Randfontein, 1962; Going to work, Mathysloop, KwaNdebele, 1984, 1984; Willie Bester’s sculpture of Sarah Baartman covered in cloth by students of the Rhodes Must Fall Movement. Main Library, University of Cape Town, 14 May 2016, 2016; Censorship of artworks by the management of the University of Cape Town: at left a drawing by Diane Victor has been covered to hide it; at right, where woodcuts by Cecil Skotnes hung, there are now empty spaces. Crated-over Diane Victor drawing. All images courtesy of Centre Pompidou.


By Elena Martinique, Reprint from Widewalls, 18 February 2018, © 2018 Widewalls.

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