David Goldblatt: South Africa

The South African photographer David Goldblatt exhibited three times at The Photographers’ Gallery’s Great Newport Street location: in 1974, in 1986 and during the Citigroup Photography Prize in 2004.

Below is an extract from the exhibition booklet from 1986, written by Sue Davies, who was The Photographers’ Gallery Director at the time.

“This booklet has been produced both to introduce David Goldblatt’s photographs and to give some background information to his exhibition and that of The Cordoned Heart, which we are showing at the same time. The Cordoned Heart is a group show which contains work by nineteen other South African photographers as well as David’s and all the photographs were taken for the Second Carnegie Inquiry into Poverty and Development in Southern African (the first being The Carnegie Commission on the Poor White Problem in Southern Africa 1929), funded by The Carnegie Corporation of New York. They have also produced a book, but as the only one of David Goldblatt’s books currently in print is ‘In Boksburg’, we have taken this opportunity to include an abridged version of a speech by Nadine Gordimer made at the time of his exhibition in The National Gallery, Cape Town and a piece by Roger Omond which gives a brief history of the apartheid system in South Africa under which all these people are living and working.

“The civilized world quite rightly condemns apartheid but most of us have never lived with it or even visited South Africa and while our television and newspapers show us riots and police brutality, it is difficult to imagine what day to day life must be like – the strength of David Goldblatt’s pictures lies in his ability to show us exactly that. They explain how such a heinous system not only excludes the black population from any equal opportunities but also successfully insulates the white population. It becomes evident that this insulation perpetuates an attitude of condescending paternalism and the myth of black dependency which in turn underpins the belief in apartheid by all but a tiny minority of the whites. Looking at these photographs makes you understand why there has to be change and why it will probably now be violent change.

“The pictures should also make us aware of our own situation and how important it is to guard the freedoms to which we give lip service but which are constantly eroded by our own racial prejudice and class system. It is easy for liberal minded people to be lulled into a false sense of security but real democracy is more than just a voting system and needs constant vigilance if the equality of opportunity it promises is not to be compromised. Once a totalitarian regime takes over, be it left or right, it is seemingly impossible to change it without violence, bloodshed and misery for everyone.”

Sue Davies, Director, The Photographers’ Gallery. Text taken from the exhibition booklet.