Conversations with David Goldblatt

In May, The Jewish Museum invited CUArts to share in a conversation between photographer David Goldblatt and Joseph Lelyveld, former New York Times executive editor and correspondent in South Africa. The crowd sat captivated as Lelyveld invited David Goldblatt to share details about his inspiration and photography in South Africa.  David spoke contemplatively, envisioning the future while reminiscing about the past.

David Goldblatt, Fernando Augusto Luta washes his clothes while Augusto Mokinda (13), Ze Jano (12) and Ze Ndala (10) pose for a photograph in the water in which they swim in a mineshaft of the Pomfret Blue Asbestos Mine, Pomfret, North-West Province, 25 December 2002

David Goldblatt has been documenting his unique vision of South African society through photography for over 50 years. The special exhibition, South African Photographs: David Goldblatt, is on view at the museum through September 19th 2010.  This exhibition includes black-and white prints taken between 1948 and 2009 exploring South Africa from a citizen’s perspective through the apartheid and post-apartheid eras. Goldblatt explained how his Jewish identity is very connected to his work. He expressed that the humiliation he experienced through anti-Semitism connected him to the pain and discrimination blacks experienced under apartheid. Goldblatt carried with him an innate awareness of injustice, an awareness that shaped his childhood and continues to influence his work.

When questioned about his transition from black-and-white to color photography in his professional work, Goldblatt explained that with the break down of apartheid he switched to color photography stating, “color had been too sweet for apartheid.” He felt as though the black and white photography expressed more of the “anger, fear, disgust, and perhaps even the hurt” that he felt during that time.

David Goldblatt, Crippled by a stray bullet from an argument in which he had no part, a former gold-miner sits in a wheelchair and begs at a crossroad on the Johannesburg - Cape Town highway, while pursuing winning numbers for the national lottery, Springfontein 7 August 2003

Goldblatt shared that there were times when he photographed subjects while accompanied by an armed guard. He spoke about how difficult it was for him to communicate trust while taking such precautions. This situation really made me think about how complicated that balance is to achieve.

In art and life, is it possible to find a space where we can protect ourselves in the same measure that we trust?

Goldblatt’s extended descriptions offer us a glimpse behind the photo. He offers us a context we couldn’t begin to imagine. Like his photos, this interview gives us a dose of detailed information, but instead of feeling satisfied it only leaves me hungry for more.

To hear the conversation in its entirety check it out here.

Visit The Jewish Museum to view this special exhibition, before it ends September 19th 2010.

Tonya Marie Reid, CUSSW ‘10

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About Tonya Reid

Harlem-based Art Enthusiast.
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