David Goldblatt's View On South Africa : The Picture Show Photos by David Goldblatt, South African documentarian and octagenarian, are in a new retrospective exhibition in New York City.
NPR logo David Goldblatt's View On South Africa

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.

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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