David Goldblatt

Photograph by Warren van Rensburg

David Goldblatt Timeline

1930
Born in Randfontein, South Africa, in 1930, the third son of Eli Goldblatt and Olga Light, both of whom came to South Africa as children with their parents, to escape the persecution of the Lithuanian Jewish communities in the 1890s. 'Unlike many of the other Jewish immigrants, my parents both spoke English pretty well. But when they wanted to speak between themselves and not be understood, they spoke Yiddish.
'When my grandfather died in 1910, my father had to go into the family business, a general dealer's store called Brown & Goldblatt, which he eventually turned into a mens outfitting shop. It was, of its kind, one of the best on the Reef. His customer base was extraordinarily mixed. While concession store traders specialised in goods that the mineworkers bought, Basotho blankets and that kind of thing, he went in for the top end of that trade. Miners would come all the way from the East Rand to buy his rugs, imported from Ireland. He took a very personal interest in his customers. In the early days, before the Second World War and shortly after it, there weren't many high-quality clothing manufacturers in South Africa, so the best suits and jackets came from England - Simpsons, Sumrie... He would measure a customer for a suit and send off an order by post to Simpsons in London. The magistrate needed something cool, but he had to be smartly dressed, so he would fit him with a washable linen suit from Hong Kong.
'My father was a perfectionist, but never in a confrontational way. If a man came in and needed new clothes or shoes, it was absolutely verboten to ask him what size he was. You had to know what size would be right for him, which meant you had to measure him, try it on to see. You didn't rely on people saying, 'this feels good' when you knew it didn't look right. You had to find the right thing. That was an absolute in our shop. You had to know your business.
'My mother worked as a typist in a clothing company and that's possibly how they met.
1940
'When I reached Standard Six, I was sent off to boarding school at Pretoria Boys High. It was a disaster. Coming from the protected beneficent ambience of the Ursuline Convent, I was thrown into a hothouse of bullying and racism. It was pretty common for a big boy to call me, a junior, "You fucking little bloody Jew" - that sort of thing. It was a violent place and I just couldn't take it. My brother, Nick, who was then in the air force, visited me and could see that I simply wasn't coping, so he told my parents and they brought me home, sent me to Marist Brothers in Observatory, Johannesburg. If anything, that was worse. The anti-Semitism among the kids and the sadism of some of the teachers was simply beyond my telling. At the Convent I had been the best or second best in English in the senior class. But after a few weeks at Marist Brothers, I would try and spell 'would' as 'w-o-o-g-h-l-d' or something. I could no longer spell. I lost it. I then came back to Randfontein and went to Krugersdorp High, a co-ed day school, where I was very happy.
'We used to go to school by train, so the mine dumps were very much part of our scenery. The mines never stopped. There were only two days a year when the mines didn't work: Good Friday and Christmas Day. But for the rest they worked night and day, so at night you'd see these little streetlights on top of the dumps... The mine steam hooters went three times a day for the change of shift. They were markers of time, as is the noonday cannon in Cape Town. My father played bridge with the mine doctor and the chief engineer and, if there was a serious incident on the mines, those hooters would go and the engineer and the doctor would say, 'Eli, thanks very much', put their cards down and go off to see what was happening. It might have been a tribal clash in one of the compounds.

Eli and Olga Goldblatt with their sons Nick, Dan and David (centre), on holiday at Uvongo, Natal, circa 1936 Source: [Photographer unknown]

There might have been an over wind on a headgear with men injured and killed. The mines were always in the background of my world.
'My brother Dan was 18 or 19 when the war broke out. He'd had rheumatic fever as a child and was quite frail. But, because he'd been in bed for long periods, he had, by then, become a high calibre HAM radio operator. He ostensibly went to Durban on holiday, but in fact ran away to sea. My mother almost had a fit. He spent several years in the merchant navy and was torpedoed. Anyway, it was because of him that I became so interested in ships and building model boats. During the war there was no access to the harbours. Speaking about ships and shipping was verboten. But when the war ended, the harbours were opened up and, for me, this was a golden opportunity to look at ships on our annual holidays by the sea. In order to model my boats on them when I got home, I needed to make photographs. My mother lent me an old camera of hers, although at that time it was still very difficult to buy film. I quickly became very interested in the photographs themselves and began to look at magazines. Then it became an obsession. These magazines were extraordinarily potent. There was Life and Look and Picture Post and they were doing amazing things. They had some of the best photographers in the world contributing photographic essays, not simply illustrating written pieces. They were major pieces of work in themselves.
'I did photographs at high school - a friend cribbing in a Latin test, the tug of war, that kind of thing. When the school annual came out, they'd used a couple of my photographs.
'There were three of us, three sons. Nick, the eldest, was destined to go into the shop. But by 1935, when he matriculated, Hitler had been in business for three or four years and my father said, "No, you can't go into the trade. You need a profession." So Nick went to university and became a metallurgist. Dan, who had gone on to be a radio operator in the Israeli air force in 1948, came home eventually and opened his own place selling and repairing radios. My father hoped that I would join him in the shop.'
1948
Matriculated from Krugersdorp High School
'By then the war was over. 'The men who'd gone "up north" had gone there ostensibly to fight fascism which was very active here at home where there were many active sympathisers of the Nazis and virulent anti-Semitism. I can remember vividly Nat party posters outside my father's shop with the grossly-inflated Semitic face of "Hoggenheimer". When the Nats came in, in May 1948, and suddenly the ruling party were these very people, it was a great shock. Instead of South Africa becoming a more liberated place, we were going in exactly the other direction.
'After matriculating, I said I really wanted to become a magazine photographer. My father would have liked me to go into the business, but he supported me on that completely Dan came back from the merchant navy with a fine but damaged German camera - a Contax, the Zeiss equivalent of the Leica, developed in the 1930s. My father bought it from him to enable me to have a professional quality camera and I then started trying to take photographs of various things. But I had very little idea of how to go about things and the camera was irreparable. I didn't progress.
'I tried to get myself into magazines and for a year I sukkeled [struggled]. There were a few press photographers on the main papers, the Rand Daily Mail, The Star, the Sunday Times, and then there were commercial photographers, but very few people knew anything about magazine photography.
'I looked around for someone who might teach me, went from door to door with a box of prints to professional photographers and finally met a man who claimed he could teach me. I stayed with him for about three months, did quite a bit of darkroom work, and on weekends went with him to weddings. He would drape several cameras around my neck so that I looked very professional and my Job was to ensure that no guest with a good camera got a good picture. I would have to bump or walk in front of them at the critical moment so that my boss was the only person who ended up with good photographs. When I left him, I discovered that the £10 a month he had been paying me, my father was quietly paying him. He was a real shit. I became extremely discouraged and went to work in the shop'
1950

David Goldblatt, Nahoon, East London. 1951 Source: photograph by Aviva Shoshani

Tried shooting news events 'During the 50s I felt it incumbent upon me somehow to tell the world what was happening here and I started trying to photograph news events - not for the local press, but to send out of the country to magazines. I did a photograph of a black man walking up the steps of Johannesburg station. At the top there was a sign, "Europeans Only", that had not been there before and there was a 'blackjack', a policeman, telling him that he couldn't come up the steps because they were for Europeans Only I was outraged. It was the first time that we'd seen such things. I sent the photographs off to Picture Post and got a polite rejection, but then, when things started happening here in terms of the ANC's resistance to the pass laws and so on... the Defiance Campaign... I got a cable from Picture Post saying, "Please send us photographs". This was a great step. I photographed the beginning of the Defiance Campaign on Freedom Square in Fordsburg and sent the images off to the editor, but frankly, they were lousy. I was inexperienced. I didn't know how to bring things together. But what happened at that meeting on Freedom Square was very interesting. The security police were photographing people and I told of this in my captions. Such interference with political freedom was shocking to the editor of Picture Post and he wrote a letter to himself so he could put it in his letters column to express his outrage at what the South African police were doing. Today, there's no meeting that is not only photographed, but videoed. Besides being inexperienced, I found myself unable to deal with events of naked confrontation. I came to the understanding that I was not equipped in myself [or the photography of violence Then I began to realise that I wasn't terribly interested in events. As citizen, yes, but as photographer, not.
'I gradually developed the sense that it was the underbelly that drew me -- the values and conditions that gave rise to the events.
'I became interested in the possibility, photographically speaking, of suggesting things in stillness. This sense of stillness became quite an important factor to me aesthetically. That doesn't mean I didn't photograph activity or events. They were relevant to what I was doing. I mean, if you look at my Boksburg book, it's all about the small events of daily life. I was concerned to pinpoint the banal normalities of our white madness.
1952
Went to Israel - 'Together with friends, I went on a three-month winter course in Israel, organised by Habonim, the Jewish Youth Movement. I now had my first Leica and, while I was in Israel, took some photographs that weren't bad. I came back and, rather to my father's disgust, because he was strongly against any kind of nationalism, including Zionist nationalism, I expressed a desire to become a doctor and go to live in Israel. It was then that we discovered that my father had cancer. Nick, my eldest brother, for whom I had great regard, said to me, "You can't go anywhere now. You're stuck in the shop." It would have broken my father's heart to have sold the shop, so I stayed on and gradually took over the management of the business. I registered for a B Com degree as a part-time student at Wits. My interest in photography continued and I made a serious attempt at improving my technique... I found university extremely valuable. It wasn't simply the content of the courses. It was the demand made on one to think and express oneself coherently and in a reasonably directed sort of way.'
1955

Brenda, Lily and Steven Goldblatt, Johannesburg Circa 1960

Married to Lily
'We lived in Jo'burg in Westminster Mansions at the top of the Yeoville Hill next to the water tower. It was a lovely block. I had a darkroom in the dining room cupboard...
'There is a well known set of books by the famous American photographer, Ansel Adams, which he called ' basic', but which is an extremely sophisticated course in photography. I worked my way through it and got a much better command of technique so I could work in a reasonably predictable way. I think if you're going to be serious about photography you've got to have this ability. You can't always rely on a sort of random genius. Working entirely on my own, I developed quite stringent critical standards.
'Eventually we moved to Randfontein, by which stage we had Steven and Brenda. Lily was pregnant with Ronnie... I don't think I was ever a very doting father, but I changed napkins and so on...'
1961 to 1963
An end and a beginning - Started photographing Afrikaners, a theme that would lead to the publication of Some Afrikaners Photographed in 1975
'My father died in 1962, and on 15 September 1963, I handed over the keys of the shop to the men who had bought it and became a photographer.
'I'd become seriously interested in pure economics, so there were two choices: Either to become an economist and lecturer, or a photographer. I knew that the two things were, in a strange way, closely linked, but at the same time, they were mutually exclusive in a professional sense. I couldn't pursue both in the total way that I knew I needed to. One of the most important factors that made me go for photography rather than economics is that in my gut, in my balls really, I knew I needed something in my life that was related to the smell and the touch and the sense of reality. There was a great seductive quality about economics but it was essentially abstract. Somehow I knew photography would be it.
'To me, the greatest thing was the sense of freedom and of possibilities when I sold the shop. I can't tell you what that was like -- not to have this weight of goods pressing down on me and to have the freedom to go out and photograph. I've never been religious, but I still offer up a bracha [in Hebrew, a "blessing"] to say, "Thanks for this liberty'"
'I was in Lesotho in 1963 before I'd become a professional. The Communist Party had just been banned in South Africa and, on the sidewalk of the main street in Maseru, there was a man at a stand selling communist books and pamphlets. It was bizarrely interesting that a mile from there he would have been arrested. Using a telephoto lens, I photographed him. Afterwards, as I walked past, he said to me, "Am I an ox?" Since then, I have seldom photographed anyone without their permission.'
1964
Started working for South African Tatler
Travelled to the Marico Bushveld
'I began to work professionally, but I didn't have any clients. (I did take some money out of the shop, enough to support us for about a year, so it wasn't a completely reckless gamble) The clientele I gradually got was mostly to do with public relations. Leyland Motors sold 100 new trucks to the South African railways and I was there for the handing over of the keys. Somebody had a fire and an insurance company would ask me to go and do pictures. I've always been freelance.
'There were two avant garde magazines in England at that time, Queen and Town. I sent pictures to Town and got an encouraging response from the assistant editor, Sally Angwin, a South African. She commissioned photography from me for an article on the Anglo American Corporation. Then Sally came back to South Africa and was offered the editorship of a magazine that, up till then, had been a social rag for the mink and manure set -- parties, fox hunts, that sort of thing. Desmond Niven, a descendent of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, had bought this magazine and wanted to turn it into a kind of local version of Queen/Town and the South African Tatler was re-Iaunched in 1964. Sally employed me on a lot of photography - fashion, the Sugar Barons of Natal, bankers, cars, horse racing ... I learnt a lot working with her. She was a first class magazine journalist and editor who took no bullshit from me or anyone else.
'This was a completely different kind of scene from anything I knew. The art directors were a brilliant young couple - Norman Seef, who's become the premier photographer to Hollywood, and his girlfriend Colette Hyman, who was the art director of a leading ad agency. They were very cutting edge...
'When Unto Dust, the second book of Herman Charles Bosman stories edited by Lionel Abrahams, was due to be published, I suggested to Sally that I go out to the Western Transvaal to see what I could find. So I landed up near Derdepoort, on what was then the Bechuanaland border, talking to a water diviner. I asked him of places like Abjaterskop and Droggedal and he directed me to an area called Nietverdiend. In the evening I came to a farmhouse, knocked on the door and said, "Do you mind if I camp in your garden?" The young farmer and his wife insisted that I sleep in their rondawel. That evening I accompanied the farmer when he went to the fields to organise ploughing, and it turned out that this was the farm Droggedal or Droedal, which crops up again and again in Bosman's stories. The "conservative De Bruins" had lived on that very farm. In the next few days I met the people and found the places that Bosman wrote about. I discovered that the stories and the names of his characters were 'real'. They were the embroidered tales of the people he had met when he taught near Nietverdiend in the 1920s. Oom At Geel, who is in the stories and who is on the cover of my book, Some Afrikaners Photographed, was the chairman of the Nietverdiend School Committee. He sold Bosman the rifle with which he later shot his step-brother.
'My influences in those years, the 60s in particular, were primarily literary - Lionel Abrahams, Nadine Gordimer, Athol Fugard, Herman Charles Bosman and Barney Simon. Photographically the only South African who really influenced me was Sam Haskins, who became a good friend.'
'Although I was often away on assignments, I worked from home. The children were always welcome in my working space and felt at ease in my working life...
'Lily has always been strongly supportive of my work and amazingly tolerant of the demands of my freelance life with its frequent absences, irregular hours and wildly fluctuating cash flows.'
1965
Started photographing the dying gold mines, a theme that would lead to the publication of On the Mines in 1973
'I'd begun to work on two principal essays: Afrikaners, and the dying mines ofthe Witwatersrand. Having lived in a mining town all my life, I felt the need to explore the mmmg phenomena more fully. Access to mine properties was restricted, so you'd be poking around on a mine that had closed 20 years before and out of the earth, seemingly, a mine policeman would crop up and tell you that you weren't allowed to be there. I generally tried to get permission from the head offices...
'The bathroom attached to the general manager's office had two baths so when he came up from underground, the GM would get into the one, wash off the coarse dirt and then get into the other for a final clean. These are fascinating aspects of mining society and its tools. On the Randfontein Estates, where I lived, they had the biggest steam hoist in the world - 6 000 horse power. It was a fantastic machine. I photographed an abandoned compound -- thousands of concrete bunks, and only found one where there was a sign of human habitation. A man had stuck some pinups on the wall, white women, presumably in those days there were no black pinups. And the lavatories that the black men were forced to use in the compounds, lines of ceramic seats. I tried to photograph what these things disclosed of mining society and the migrant labour system that had brought men from all over the subcontinent to work in it.
1968
Met Nadine Gordimer
Got the thumbs down in America
'As a boy, Richmal Compton's William books were great favourites and the Arthur Ransome books about a group of kids on the Norfolk Broads in East Anglia Then there were people like Rudyard Kipling, who wrote about the Empire.. I grew up with a sense of everything happening in other places. It was always London, New York or Karachi... This is why, when I read Nadine Gordimers first stories in about 1949, I reached a turning point in my life. It was the first time somebody wrote with such immediacy of what I knew: the experience of living on the Witwatersrand. She grew up in Springs. I grew up in Randfontein. Her stories enabled me to see that my awareness was as yet unrealised, not out, but inward -- but that it could be made outward, it could be made evident. I was able now suddenly to think in terms of expressing something that was about this place.
'In 1968, when I was about 38 years old, I went overseas with a dummy of my book on Afrikaners that Sam Haskins had designed for me. Sams publishers in London, the Bodley Head, said they would publish if I could find a co-publisher, so I went to New York with about a dozen introductions to publishers. Saw them all and for the first and only time in my life I became suicidal. Aside from catching the Asian Flu, which was then sweeping the world, and being holed up in a lousy hotel, I felt like an ant. Wherever I went I got the same response: very warm when I walked in, but once the work had been looked at, a steel door came down. In New York, time is money and they're not going to waste time on you if you're of no interest. The Afrikaners and I were of no interest. They had the Southerners and my photographs weren't explicitly about apartheid, which was becoming a buzzword. They were non-emphatic things and I would have to explain, like explaining jokes, what they were about. Eventually one guy summed it up. He said: "Buddy you ain't got a gimmick." That was a turning point for me.
'I began to understand what had been happening during the making of that book. It was the realisation that I was involved in this place in a way that I couldn't be in another place. I suppose I could have moved and fitted in to mid-America, but I would never have had that visceral knowledge that came from my birth and growing in South Africa. The photographs I made and wanted to make came out of and assumed that kind of knowledge in my audience. They were too arcane, too parochial for outsiders. So I no longer worried about 'reaching' overseas. Nor did I want to live there'
1972
Spent six months photographing in Soweto
'In 1970, I said to Charles Eglington, the editor of Optima, "Surely you should do a story on Sowetho? The person to do the photographs is Peter Magubane." But Peter went inside - was imprisoned and in solitary confinement for a hell of a long time and then, when he came out, he was banned... Finally Charles said to me, "I think you must photograph it." So I went into Soweto with Sipho Sepamla and did a few photographs. But wherever I went I would draw a crowd of children. There was absolutely no way I could disappear, be invisible - a 'fly on the wall'. And so I stopped and I told Charles, ''I'm sorry, but I don't know how to do this yet. Can you wait until I find out?"
'It took me two years. But then I woke up on an August morning in 1972 and knew what I wanted to do. I just had to go there with a camera on a tripod and simply declare myself - let happen what will. Almost immediately, out of the smog - in those days you could hardly see through the smog in Soweto - a young man emerged and said, 'I want to help you', and he became my mentor and translator, Joshua Moeketsi. On the fringe of a tsotsi gang he had been asked to become its captain and had resisted. He and I became very closely involved and, for about six months, I went into Soweto several times a week and Joshua and I would drive around and photograph...
'I was partly influenced by the photographs of Bruce Davidson, who had done something similar using a large format camera on 100th Street in Harlem, New York. It was quite a leap from 35mm photography of life on the wing, as it were to a much more deliberate contemplative approach, which is what I adopted in Soweto. I acknowledged completely that when I went into Soweto, I was the "other". Freaky, foreign, white. There's no way I could have melted into Soweto.'
1973
Publication of On the Mines with Nadine Gordimer, Struik, Cape Town
'While working on the photographs of the dying mines, Nadine Gordimer's writing was very much in mind, so I asked Lionel Abrahams, who was a friend of hers, to introduce me to her. I showed her the work up to that point, in the hope that she might write something. She responded very warmly and so we began to work together. Her essay, The Witwatersrand: A Time and Tailings, came out of that collaboration.'
1974
Exhibited at the Photographers' Gallery, London
'My most rewarding exhibition was my first big one, which was on the observation deck of the Carlton Centre in 1974. People came for the view, but often stayed to look at the photographs and became so involved in them that I would have to go in the evenings to wipe hamburger grease off the prints. They were local people from Lenasia, Soweto, Yeoville, Boksburg, identifying and connecting with the pictures.'
1975

Euan and Murray Crawford. Murray made possible the publication of Some Afrikaners Photographed. Johannesburg. October 1964

Publication of Some Afrikaners Photographed, Murray Crawford Johannesburg
Exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Shot a series of photographs in public parks around Johannesburg honing in on the details of people's bodies, that would result in the publication of Particulars in 2003
'With Some Afrikaners Photographed it was a case of tough love. I believe I looked with real affection, even with love, but at the same time critically, and this was very uncomfortable for a lot of Afrikaners. 'I experience a hunger for recognition in almost everyone. With the exception perhaps of people who are often in the public eye and are now blase about it - we all like to be noticed.
'I've learnt with photographs that if I've done my job properly I haven't made judgments for the viewer. They've got to find their way into the picture and, often, what they find is not what I saw.
'Generally speaking I haven't had any serious problems that I can recall of people I've photographed who've then become aware of the publication and felt that I've betrayed them. I learnt pretty early on that one of the things I had to be very careful to do was to honour my declared intentions.
'I fell out with one magazine because I refused to allow the editor to use captions that were completely false. Shortly after the Soweto uprising in 1976, I was in Canada and agreed to the use of some of my photographs by a local magazine, provided they used my captions. When I phoned to check what they had done, shortly before they were due to go to press, I discovered that they had attached captions that were factually wrong and grossly distorted my photographs. I told the editor, "If you attempt to use those captions I'll get a court interdict against you. I'll stop your press." He changed them.
'I felt I had to control my material. I never joined an agency, which was the obvious thing to do if you wanted to get into the international magazine market. If you could join Magnum or Black Star -- one of the big agencies - you'd get publication in a wide range of very good magazines. But that required that you hand over the material and let them do more or less what they liked with it. And I wasn't prepared to do that, so I kept out of the agencies right through.'
'At the beginning of the Particulars book, there's a picture of a young woman in a very short mini skirt. She was a prostitute and I saw her in Fordsburg sitting on bench... I came up to her and said, "I think you've got beautiful hands. I'd like to photograph them." And she did have hands that I liked, but it was the combination of her hands, the miniskirt and that little roll of fat that women have at the top of the thigh that I find very sexy, and is very womanly But I didn't want to go into all of that detail. She said, "Well, 20 cents" And I said, "No, I don't want to pay I think you're beautiful. I just want to photograph your hands." And she said, "20 cents." So I said, "Well look, I'm sorry then. Don't worry I'll leave it," and I started walking away and she said, "Alright." And then she said to me, "Come, let's go to Swaziland." [To escape the apartheid law prohibiting sexual intimacy between whites and blacks, some would slip across the border to neighbouring countries such as Swaziland.] And I said, "Thank you very much, but I just want to photograph your hands." And then finally she said, "Ag, such a nice man." So yes there was an element there of concealment, I suppose.'
1976

Fietas (Pageview) Johannesburg, before the forced removal of its Indian populace and the destruction of their homes and shops to make room for whites, under the Group Areas apartheid law. 1976

Photographed Fietas during the Forced Removals
'I Photographed Fietas - Pageview -- in 76/77, both before and during the destruction of the area under the Group Areas Act. I used to ride a bicycle because that was an excellent way of being able to stop wherever I wanted and set up a tripod. I became a very keen cyclist.'
1977
Exhibited at the Durban Art Gallery
1978
First of various exhibitions at the Market Theatre Galleries, Johannesburg
1979
Began photographing the new suburbs springing up around Boksburg, a theme that would lead to the publication of In Boksburg in 1982
'I was doing a commercial job for the JeI (which Brett Kebble has made infamous, but which was then a very respectable company) in Boksburg, and became aware of a whole new suburban phenomenon. Here was a town very similar to the one I'd grown up in, which was developing in new ways'
1980
'In 1980, Optima, commissioned me to do a story on the whites of South Africa. They had asked Alan Paton to write and would I now photograph... I was going to set off on my motorbike - I then rode a BMW - and travel around South Africa. Then I realized that what I had been doing in Boksburg was precisely a microcosm of white South Africa, so I suggested that I intensify what I was doing in Boksburg'
1980s
'During the 80s, my professional work centred more and more on Leadership magazine. [Editor and publisher] Hugh Murray and I developed a strong working relationship and I became responsible for the visual content of the magazine in quite a serious way.
'As a photographer, I'm very aware of how people are when I'm photographing them and I definitely use that knowledge, but I'm also aware that that knowledge can be ruthlessly used against somebody in quite a subtle way... I did a lot of portraits for Leadership of politicians and businessmen and if I found that I really didn't like somebody - not because of his politics necessarily, but because I found him an odious person - I sometimes did a hatchet job quite deliberately I wasn't above putting a well-known politician into a Gomma Gomma chair, knowing that he would be all knees in it.'
1981
Publication of Cape Dutch Homesteads, with Margaret Courtney-Clark and John Kench, Struik, Cape Town
1982
Publication of In Boksburg, Gallery Press, Cape Town
1983
Exhibited at the SA National Gallery, Cape Town
Started on the 15-year Structures project that would culminate in the publication of South Africa The Structure of Things Then in 1998
Started photographing the three-hour bus journey between the Wolwekraal depot in KwaNdebele and the Marabastad terminus in Pretoria, a series which led to the publication of The Transported of KwaNdebele. A South African Odyssey in 1989
1985

After the funeral of the Cradock Four who were assassinated by the Security Police, a child gives the salute of the then banned African National Congress (ANC), Cradock 1985 For the New York Times

Exhibited at the Side Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Photographers' Gallery, London
British television network, Channel 4, made and screened a one hour documentary, David Goldblatt: In Black and White, subsequently shown in the USA [PBS] and Australia
'This was perhaps the lowest point of the South African struggle because it looked seriously as though we would go mto a long mght here. There seemed no prospect of relief. There was a State of Emergency. The government was locking up tens of thousands of people, mostly youngsters. People like Neil Agget had died in detention. We'd lived through the death of [Steve] Biko. Both of my sons went into the army. It was a bad time...
'My exhibition that started at the Side Gallery toured Britain. When it was due to go to Liverpool, the council there asked the ANC if it was okay to exhibit my work and the London office of the ANC said no. They put out a boycott call on David Goldblatt because he'd defied the cultural boycott and because he did work for the Anglo American Corporation. A couple of key ANC supporters in South Africa sent a message to London that the boycott was ridiculous and it was relaxed. But it was a very intense period of total control and I realised that work such as mine could become critically important simply as documentary evidence, so I donated that whole exhibition to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.'
1986
Publication of Lifetimes: Under Apartheid, with Nadine Gordimer, Knopf, New York
Exhibited as part of the group show, South Africa: the Cordoned Heart, South Africa and the USA
1987
Hallmark Fellow at the Aspen Conference in Design, Aspen, Colorado, 1987
1989
Publication of The Transported of KwaNdebele with Brenda Goldblatt and Phillip van Niekerk, Aperture and Duke University, New York
'During the 80s, I came to feel the need increasingly to enable visual literacy among young township people, so together with a couple of friends, we raised funds to set up the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg. I've had little to do with the running of it. The people who have managed it and taught there have been full of ideals and the ability to put them into practice. It has worked remarkably well.'
1990
State President FW De Klerk makes a speech unbanning the ANC and announcing the imminent release of Nelson Mandela from prison
'The critical year for me was not '94. It was '90, when De Klerk made his great speech in Parliament -- great in the sense that it was a speech of abdication. That was fundamental, like June 16 1976. I said to my friends at the time, "This is the revolution. It's happening right now.'"
1992
Gahan Fellow in Photography at Harvard University
1995
Exhibited as part of the Johannesburg Biennale Awarded the Camera Austria Prize for an excerpt from South Africa the Structure of Things Then
1996
Exhibited as part of In/Sight, African Photographers, 1940 to the Present, Guggenheim Museum, New York
1998
Publication of South Africa: the Structure of Things Then, Oxford University Press, Cape Town, and Monacelli Press, New York
First South African to be given a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York
Exhibited as part of Blank_ Architecture, apartheid and after, Rotterdam and Berlin
'On Good Friday of 1998 I went for a drive around the city of Johannesburg. It was the first time since liberation that I'd really stopped to look at what had been happening because I'd been so deeply immersed in the Structures project. I drove firstly into the centre of the city and, it being a public holiday, it was very quiet. It was as though I was driving through a bombed city. Shops I'd known since I was a child were bricked up. Streets were full of garbage. Buildings were decrepit and unpainted. And then I drove out to the north, where there seemed to be a manic pursuit of wealth and luxury that was mind boggling.. I found it utterly depressing. I came home and said to Lily,
"For the first time in my life I don't want to live here. I feel as though suddenly I don't belong. It's a place that has become completely foreign to me."
'For a time I really felt like a stranger, but I began to look with a camera, which demands that you seek and convey coherence. As I began to do that my sense of involvement was reawakened.
'I started looking more closely at the city -- trying to photograph it. Because of rampant crime, I had to hire a man with a gun.
'What was most interesting for me was the contrast in the expectations of the capitalists, the owners of the buildings, and the hundreds of thousands of people from all over Africa who moved into them. Fond expectations of rising income from huge property investments, long into the future, were dashed within a very few years. And although this new, teeming Joburg inner city was in many respects anarchic, there was a strong substratum of people who sought within its congestion, to build a settled and respectable life for themselves and their children.'
'In the North, adverts appeared on sidewalks. Tymon, painter, phone so-and-so. Peter, painter, phone. Jimmy Mokwena, builder... This was not possible during apartheid. Africans were not allowed to trade in white Johannesburg. But this was no longer white Johannesburg. It was becoming a non-racial Johannesburg and here were people who were clawing their way into the economy All you needed was skill, a paintbrush and a cell phone and you could be in business. You didn't need a secretary or an office, just basic tools and the preparedness to work. So these were to me very interesting facets of what was happening in the new South Africa.
'And of course in the north of Johannesburg there was this insatiable pursuit of wealth, which I found, and still find, appalling.'
1999
Exhibited at South African National Gallery, Cape Town
Started photographing South African landscapes in colour, leading to the publication of Intersections in 2005
'Irving Penn, the great American photographer, said he had not seen a memorable colour photograph He had done some remarkable colour work himself. That's always stuck in my mind.
'I was invited in 1999 by the Art Gallery of Western Australia to participate in an exhibition entitled Home and to contribute a photographic project of my choice in Australia to that show. They thought I would want to photograph the South Africans in Perth. I told them I'd been to Boksburg. I got hold of a Rough Guide to Australia and read about a place called Wittenoom, in the far north, a town that had been decimated by the effects of mining blue asbestos. I had become interested in the subject because I had seen a friend die of mesothelioma, the terrible cancer you get from blue asbestos. I needed to photograph in colour because blue asbestos is blue. So I came to a link between a new set of film emulsions and digital reproduction that enabled me to make prints in colour that previously I had not been able to do.
'I've found the venture into colour quite exciting, largely because new technology has enabled me to work with colour on the computer as I have done with black and white in the darkroom. Now I can sit at the computer with the image on screen and through Tony - Tony MeintJes who does all of my printing -- pump up the contrast, lighten the picture here, darken there and make the blue less glaringly "sunny skies and Chevrolet".
'Colour has been an added dimension, a way of looking at things with a more relaxed kind of approach. It has to do with the sense of liberation that came with post-apartheid South Africa, a sense that I didn't any longer have to feel guilty every time I looked at something that wasn't immediately relevant to the struggle. Not that I ever did 'struggle photographs', but I was always acutely aware of the need somehow to penetrate to the roots of the system. Today I don't feel anger and I don't feel fear in the sense that I did at that time. Obviously I'm concerned and depressed by many things that have happened, from Dainfern through to Mr Zuma, but it's generally not the same kind of concern. Yes, I'm afraid of men with guns and knives, but I'm not afraid of the security police. I'm not afraid that we're going to collapse into some appalling cataclysm.'
2000
Exhibited as part of Eye-Africa, Revue Noir, Cape Town, Europe and the USA
Exhibited as part of Home, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Exhibited as part of Rhizomes of Memory, Three South African Photographers, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo
'2000? I've never been able to work up the enthusiasm for things like New Year's Day and Millennium Day I mean they're just days'
2001
Publication of David Goldblatt 55 (one of a series about photographers) Phaidon Press, London Axa Gallery, New York
David Goldblatt Fifty-One Years, a retrospective exhibition (Q-curated by Corinne Diserens and Okwui Enwezor and produced by the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), began an international tour of galleries and museums
Publication of David Goldblatt Fifty-One Years, Actar and Macba, Barcelona Exhibited as part of The Short Century, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich
Received an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from The University of Cape Town
'When I came back from Australia, I realised I wanted to look at our country Previously I had a clearly focused area of life that I wanted to explore - Boksburg, Afrikaners, Transkei, Structures. Now I just had a vague feeling that I wanted to explore post-apartheid South Africa... I decided I would go to every intersection of whole degrees of latitude and longitude (122) as a device for seeing South Africa anew. But it didn't work. As a start I went to 14 of these points and many of them were FASes (Fuck All Situations). I found myself trying to 'create' photographs, which is what I'd had to do lot of the time in my professional work, so I decided simply to drive around the country and explore whatever took my interest, which is what I've been doing for the past few years.
'I decided that I really didn't just want to photograph people. I felt I'd like to look at some aspect of South Africa that related to things that have happened politically and economically in this country. And so the idea came to look at municipal officials. I photographed them on a large format camera, knowing that the long exposures would demand a kind of stillness that I find most telling in portraits.'
2002
David Goldblatt Fifty-One Years exhibited at Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Witte de With, Rotterdam and Centro Cultural de Belem-Fundacao, Lisbon
Exhibited as part of Documenta 77, Kassel, Germany
2003
Publication of Particulars, Goodman Gallery Editions, Johannesburg, [Awarded the Aries Book Prize for 2004]
David Goldblatt Fifty-One Years exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford; the Palais de Beaux Arts, Brussels and Lenbachhaus, Munich
Exhibited as part of Africa Remix, Museum Kunst Palast, Duesseldorf
'I'm always concerned with the particulars - that moment, that dog, that pole. Not with a universal dog, not a platonic dog, not a universal pole. Not even with the concept of a dog pissing on a pole. It's that dog doing it at that moment that I'm concerned with. It's the immediacy that really grabs me.'
2004
Exhibited as part of History, Memory, Society, with Henri Cartier Bresson and Lee Friedlander, Tate Modern, London
The French National Art Collection acquires some 54 prints
2005
Publication of Intersections, Prestel, Munich Exhibited at Museum Kunst Paiast, Dusseldorf Exhibited at the Johannesburg Art Gallery
Exhibited as part of Faces in the Crowd, Whitechapel, London
South African Broadcasting Corporation screened a 48-minute documentary by Greg Marinovich, Conversations with Goldblatt
'Art has, very largely, taken over what was regarded as reportage and there is an uncomfortable ground in the middle somewhere. I confess that I sometimes find myself in conflict over this very question. For years and years, I wouldn't begin to associate what I did with the art world. If people wanted to buy my prints, I discouraged them. I didn't ever want to say to myself: "That's a picture I could sell" I want to take photographs because of the thing itself - because the fact that it exists excites me, makes me itch. It's a sexual thing partly. Partly intellectual and emotional. And if I begin to think in terms of an editor or an art market, that vague concept out there, then that changes the imperative. I'm very wary of this.
'Photography is the flavour of the era. Let's not speak of the month. It's an era. It'll probably last five or ten years and then it will be something else.'
2006

Goldblatt and the Isuzu 4x4 camper with which he travels South Africa [Photograph by Francois Smit]

Announced as the winner of the 2006 Hasselblad Photography Award
'I'm now 75.
'I don't need a holiday. My work is a holiday I regard myself as being very, very fortunate. There are not many men that have had the opportunity of a second choice when they're already supposedly mature, which I did have when I was 32. There are not many men who are really happy in their work and I am.'
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Last updated : 20-Jul-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 04-Apr-2011

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