For the first time in France, the Centre Pompidou is staging a large-scale retrospective on South African photographer David Goldblatt.
The exhibition takes visitors through the entire output of the photographer (b. 1930), and features over two hundred photographs, a hundred-odd previously unpublished documents (taken from the artist’s archives), lesser-known early works, such as the first pictures he took at Randfontein, as well as his most recent photographs. Seven short films, made by the Centre Pompidou especially for the event, will be screened in the different sections of the exhibition. In them, David Goldblatt comments on his photographs, providing insights into a fascinating body of work and encouraging an aware and analytical eye.
Since the 1960s, David Goldblatt has tirelessly explored his native country through his photographs, recording South Africa’s history, physical features and inhabitants. His pictures scrupulously examine the complex history of this country, where he witnessed the introduction of Apartheid, its development and its eventual demise.
Winner of the Hasselblad Award (2006) and the Prix Henri Cartier-Bresson (2011), Goldblatt is considered one of the leading photographers of the 20th century. The artist restricts each personal project to a specific place he knows well. This in-depth knowledge of the terrain enables him to find the most apposite form to express all its complexity. While his documentary approach evokes great figures like Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, August Sander and Eugène Atget, Goldblatt has never wanted to adopt already-existing photographic solutions.
The singular quality of Goldblatt’s art lies more generally in his personal story and vision of life. Born into a family of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution, he grew up believing
in equality and tolerance for people from other cultures and religions. This can be seen in his earliest pictures of dockers, fishermen and miners, taken between the ages of 14 and 18. As well as this respect, there was a sense of curiosity about attitudes he did not share, and a desire to understand rather than dismiss them. After the introduction of Apartheid, he turned his gaze to the small-scale Afrikaner farmers he came across in his father’s clothing store. His disapproval of the Apartheid racial policy and the excesses of the current government underpin a long series of images he began some forty years ago, entitled Structures. His photographs of buildings and landscapes, accompanied by detailed, informative captions, inspire reflection on the relationship between the forms of these environments and the social and political values of the individuals or social groups who build and live in them.
David Goldblatt has often said that photography is not a weapon for him and that he’s not interested in using it for propaganda purposes, even in a laudable cause. Reflecting this spirit, the photographic language he favours is simple and intense.
A key figure in the South African photographic scene, and an iconic exponent of politically-committed documentary image-making, David Goldblatt gives space to the person or place photographed, thus expressing their ideas and values. For forty years, he has maintained this extraordinary tension between subject, territory, politics and representation.