Daily Picture Show

David Goldblatt's View On South Africa

In the 1940s and '50s, David Goldblatt, the son of Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants, was growing up in a racist, anti-Semitic South Africa. The vocation of photography at the time – and in that place – was entirely different from what it is today: There were few photo books, almost certainly no photography majors, and the idea of a documentary “photo essay” was just beginning to take shape.

Pioneering photographers like Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson – now immortalized – were starting to appear in magazines like Look and Life. Those were the magazines that the young Goldblatt was poring over, inspiring him to pick up a camera.

  • A farmer's son with his nursemaid, Heimweeberg, Nietverdiend, 1964
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    A farmer's son with his nursemaid, Heimweeberg, Nietverdiend, 1964
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • Holdup in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, November 1963
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    Holdup in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, November 1963
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • A plot-holder with the daughter of a servant, Wheatlands, Randfontein, September 1962
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    A plot-holder with the daughter of a servant, Wheatlands, Randfontein, September 1962
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • An elder of the Dutch Reformed Church walking home with his family after the Sunday service, George, January 1968
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    An elder of the Dutch Reformed Church walking home with his family after the Sunday service, George, January 1968
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • An elder of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church walking home with his family after the Sunday service, Carnavon, January, 1968
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    An elder of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church walking home with his family after the Sunday service, Carnavon, January, 1968
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • Before the fight: amateur boxing at the Town Hall, Boksburg, 1979–80
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    Before the fight: amateur boxing at the Town Hall, Boksburg, 1979–80
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • Children on the border between Fietas and Mayfair, Johannesburg, circa 1949
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    Children on the border between Fietas and Mayfair, Johannesburg, circa 1949
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • Going to work: workers in the KwaNdebele Bantustan queue at 2:40 a.m. for the first bus of the day to take them to their workplaces in Pretoria. The journey will take nearly three hours. Many will then take further transport of up to an hour in order to be at work by 7:00 a.m. There were (and are) very few employment opportunities in what was the KwaNdebele Bantustan. Mathysloop, February, 1...
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    Going to work: workers in the KwaNdebele Bantustan queue at 2:40 a.m. for the first bus of the day to take them to their workplaces in Pretoria. The journey will take nearly three hours. Many will then take further transport of up to an hour in order to be at work by 7:00 a.m. There were (and are) very few employment opportunities in what was the KwaNdebele Bantustan. Mathysloop, February, 1984
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • After a day's work they take the bus from Pretoria to KwaNdebele. Depending on conditions some on this bus will reach home at between 9 and 10 p.m., having traveled a total of eight hours, and then be in the queue for the first bus at 2:40 a.m. the next morning, February 1984
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    After a day's work they take the bus from Pretoria to KwaNdebele. Depending on conditions some on this bus will reach home at between 9 and 10 p.m., having traveled a total of eight hours, and then be in the queue for the first bus at 2:40 a.m. the next morning, February 1984
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • Steven with Sight Seeing Bus, Doornfontein, Johannesburg, 1960
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    Steven with Sight Seeing Bus, Doornfontein, Johannesburg, 1960
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • Team Leader and Mine Captain on a pedal car in the Rustenburg Platinum Mine, Rustenburg, 1971
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    Team Leader and Mine Captain on a pedal car in the Rustenburg Platinum Mine, Rustenburg, 1971
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • The farmer's wife, Fochville, 1965
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    The farmer's wife, Fochville, 1965
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
  • Young men with dompas, White City, Jabavu, Soweto, November 1972
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    Young men with dompas, White City, Jabavu, Soweto, November 1972
    David Goldblatt/Courtesy of David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

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Now 80 years old, Goldblatt can look back and see how far he and South Africa have both come. Entirely self-taught, the photographer has had more than 20 solo exhibitions, including one at the MOMA, and has published more than 10 books. His seminal documentary work during and after apartheid is now being recognized in a retrospective exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York City, starting May 2.

Some of the images come from his series Transported of KwaNdebele, which followed the long daily commute of black workers during segregation. Others are from On The Mines, a 1970s expose of gold-miners' subterranean lives. Of the 150 black-and-white photos on display, most are quiet observations rather than loud political statements. For the most part, Goldblatt wasn’t interested in explosions of hostility, but instead preferred to photograph daily life. In his words, "I was much more interested in what led to the events. So the climactic moments, which were the bread and butter of the international press … were really not of great interest to me."

Here's a small selection of his work, but to learn more about Goldblatt, listen to this extensive interview from Source, in which he discusses his influences, his struggles and successes.

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