On Common Ground marks an historic moment as the work of two of South Africa’s most renowned photographers, David Goldblatt and Peter Magubane, are to be exhibited side-by-side for the first time.
With both photographers in their late eighties, this is a poignant moment to reflect on their respective legacies. Curator and photographer Paul Weinberg brings works by these veterans into direct conversation, using the gallery space to mirror major and lesser-known bodies of work that present Goldblatt and Magubane’s astute and distinct approaches to photography within the context of a shared pull to document apartheid South Africa and the post-1994 period of democracy.
For Magubane, this urgency to document grew from a sense of anger and personal oppression: ‘I did not want to leave the country to find another life. I was going to stay and fight with my camera as my gun. I did not want to kill anyone, though. I wanted to kill apartheid.’
Known for his ‘steely resolve [and] unrelenting gaze’ (Mail & Guardian), Magubane made his name as a photojournalist at a time when navigating South Africa as a black photographer was loaded with risk, exacting a heavy toll when he was detained and served 586 days of solitary confinement in 1969.
Whereas Magubane operated on the front-line – seeking to ‘defeat this animal apartheid’ and show the world what was happening by positioning himself amid violent protests and daring to point his lens at white South Africans, Goldblatt tended to focus his camera on quieter, yet equally poignant features of the apartheid regime.
In Goldblatt’s own words: ‘During those years my prime concern was with values – what did we value in South Africa, how did we get to those values and how did we express those values. I was very interested in the events that were taking place in the country as a citizen but, as a photographer, I’m not particularly interested, and I wasn’t then, in photographing the moment that something happens. I’m interested in the conditions that give rise to events.’
According to Goodman Gallery owner and director Liza Essers: ‘This exhibition has been five years in the making. For me, Goldblatt and Magubane, while so different in their approaches, are two of the most iconic and important photographers of our time, particularly for their documenting of apartheid. By exhibiting them together for the first time, we present a unique journey through these photographers’ archives. On Common Ground also marks one of a small handful of exhibitions for Magubane in a gallery setting. Through this exhibition, we hope to address the historical oversight that Magubane has, in his lifetime, received such limited visibility in a contemporary art context.’