Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Art-iculate: David Goldblatt, Lifetimes: Under Apartheid

A plot-holder, his wife and their eldest son at lunch. Wheatlands, near Randfontein, Transvaal, September 1962. From the series Some Afrikaners Photographed. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images. Museum no. E.7-1992.
Two weeks ago I went to the V+A for the press preview of the Jameel Prize (which will comprise next week’s Art-iculate entry), and killed two birds with one stone, visiting the photography rooms for the penultimate week of David Goldblatt’s Lifetimes: Under Apartheid.
Lawrence Matjee after release from detention. De Villiers Street, Johannesburg, 25 October 1985. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images. Museum no. E.114-1992.
A photographer I have been a fan of for as long as I can remember (on Sundays my Dad would take me to the Photographer’s Gallery), I often saw Goldblatt’s emotive and unbiased works as part of the annual Deutsche Börse Photography Prize shortlist exhibition.
Dancing-master Ted van Rensburg watches two of his ballroom pupils swinging to a recording of Victor Sylvester and his Orchestra, at the Old Court House. Boksburg, 1980. From the series In Boksburg. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images. Museum no. E.76-1992.
For this V+A display, native South African Goldblatt’s work was split into five chapters, each denoting specific periods of his life and stages of civil unrest; Some Afrikaners Photographed, On The Mines, Particulars, In Boksburg, Johannesburg Encounters, The Structure of Things Then and The Transported of KwaNdebele.
The Apostolic Multiracial Church in Zion of South Africa. Crossroads, Cape Town, Cape, 11 October 1984. From the series South Africa: The Structure of Things Then. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images. Museum no. E.99-1992.
Well known for documenting the social and physical landscape of his nation, Lifetimes: Under Apartheid highlights some of Goldblatt’s most prolific works, shot between 1960 and the mid 1980s, when social segregation was at its most intense. Mainly taken from Goldblatt’s illustrious back-catalogue of photo essays, these images document the individual in a political wilderness. 
A commando escorting the prime minister and leader of the National Party, Hendrik Verwoerd and his wife, Betsy, to the party’s 50th anniversary celebrations. De Wildt, Transvaal, 31 October 1964. From the series Some Afrikaners Photographed. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images. Museum no. E.11-1992.
Some Afrikaners Photographed
Taken from Goldblatt’s first photographic essay, made between 1961 and 1968, Some Afrikaners Photographed depicts Dutch and German settlers who were the main political force in the National Party, which held power in South Africa from 1948 until 1994. The Afrikaners came to be identified with the ruling elite and, together with other ‘white’ communities, they were the beneficiaries of apartheid. Goldblatt says: ‘I was concerned with a few minutiae of Afrikaner life, with a few people’.
At the Soccer Cup Final. Orlando Stadium, Soweto, November 1972. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images. Museum no. E.42-1992.
On the Mines
The first book Goldblatt published was On the Mines (1973), with an essay by Nadine Gordimer who later won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Goldblatt took most of the photographs on the Witwatersrand, the area that had been the backbone of South African industry since gold was discovered there in the 19th century. Mining was not only the motor of economic growth – born from the migrant labour of black men - but formed part of the country’s identity. In Gordimer’s words: ‘The mining industry was the basis of South Africa’s industrial wealth and long ago set the pattern for the exploitation of blacks by whites. ... Weighed against gold, the white man’s sweat is still considered of greater worth than the black man’s’.
Saturday morning at the Pick ‘n Pay Hypermarket: Miss Lovely Legs Competition. Boksburg, 1980. From the series In Boksburg. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images. Museum no. E.81-1992.
David Goldblatt’s father owned a men’s clothing store in the small mining town of Randfontein. He later described the impact of this period: ‘Of my life experiences one that was crucial was that of working in my father’s shop … where I acquired a consciousness of bodily particulars that was technical rather than subjective’. Mostly made in 1975, Particulars is an assemblage of body fragments. Goldblatt describes how he attempted to ‘explore ... the particulars of their bodies, as affirmations or embodiments of their selves’. Details of clothing, gesture, setting and pose reveal social and sexual identities, locating the figures in time and place.
The leader of the Vikings gang with his wife, child and sister, at home. Orlando East, Soweto, October 1972. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images. Museum no. E.37-1992.
In Boksburg
Boksburg is a town in the eastern sprawl of the greater Johannesburg area. The photographs Goldblatt took there in 1979/1980 examine life in what he describes as a typical ‘small-town, middle-class, white community’ of the period. As he noted: ‘Boksburg is shaped by white dreams and white proprieties. Most of its townspeople pursue the family, social and civic concerns of respectable burghers anywhere, while locked into a deep and portentous fixity of self-elected legislated whiteness’. The photographs capture everyday scenes and social rituals in a segregated society. On its margins but vital to its existence appear the disenfranchised black onlookers, servants and labourers, who are tolerated in ‘whites-only’ suburbia. ‘Blacks are not of this town’, Goldblatt put it. ‘They serve it, trade with it, receive charity from it and are ruled, rewarded and punished by its precepts. Some, on occasion, are its privileged guests. But all who go there do so by permit or invitation, never by right’.
A young boy swimming. Aberdeen, Cape Province, 1966. From the series Some Afrikaners Photographed. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images. Museum no. E.115-1992.
Johannesburg Encounters
This group of portraits was made during the 1970s and 1980s in and around Johannesburg. Most were taken in Soweto, the collective name for the black townships to the south-west of the city in which most of Johannesburg’s black populace were compelled to live. Many of the watershed events in the struggle to end apartheid took place in Soweto.
The salute of the banned African National Congress at the graves of four assassinated black community leaders. Cradock, Eastern Cape, 20 July 1985. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images. Museum no. E.112-1992.
The Structure of Things Then
Goldblatt has always been interested in the ways ideology and politics are embodied not only in the actions and appearances of people, but also in the structures that surround them. The photographs he compiled for his 1998 book South Africa: The Structure of Things Then depict built and social structures such as churches, monuments, squatter camps, private homes and servants’ quarters. Each is a manifest symbol of the conditions that created them. The pictures explore how people’s values, their ethos, aspirations, fears and needs have taken shape in the built environment of South Africa.

Woman collecting shellfish. Port St Johns, Transkei, 1975. From the series Particulars. © David Goldblatt / V&A Images.
Museum no. E.61-1992
The Transported of KwaNdebele
The implementation of apartheid social engineering forced many black South Africans to travel enormous distances between their homes and workplaces. They had been forcibly relocated to semi-independent ‘homelands’, but were now very far from the white urban centres where they could find employment. Goldblatt's photographs document the exhausting bus ride between the Wolwekraal bus depot in KwaNdebele homeland and the Marabastad terminal outside Pretoria. A one-way journey could take over three hours, impelling people to leave home in the middle of the night to be at their jobs on time. The necessity to take onward transport in Pretoria could prolong the journey yet further.

No comments:

Post a Comment