David Goldblatt - 21 feb. au 07 may 2018
For the very first time, the Centre Pompidou is devoting a retrospective to the work of David Goldblatt, a key figure in the South African photography scene, and a major artist in the politically committed documentary. Through his photos, Goldblatt tells the story of his native country, its geography and its inhabitants, maintaining a singular tension between subject, territory, politics and representation.
The exhibition looks back over his career through a selection of major series, and reveals lesser-known groups of pictures, like his first photos taken in the townships of Johannesburg. The series On the Mines, now considered an iconic work in the history of documentary photography, is presented with working prints. The exhibition also includes part of the Particulars series from the Centre Pompidou collection and the artist's most recent work, through the Intersections series. All these series cast a sharp eye on the complexity of social relations under apartheid.
About David Goldblatt
Born 1930, David Goldblatt has spent almost three quarters of a century travelling South Africa. In his photographs he tells the story of the country of his birth, through its places and people. A witness to the inauguration, ascendancy and fall of apartheid, he offers a scrupulous exploration of its complex history. A winner of the Hasselblad Award (2006) and of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Prize (2009), Goldblatt is today considered to be one of the major photographers of the 20th century, and that for many other reasons than this fidelity to his topic. He limits each project to a particular location that he knows very well and this perfect familiarity allows him to find the appropriate form to articulate his subject in all its complexity. While his choice of documentary links him to such masters as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, August Sander or Eugène Atget, Goldblatt has never wanted to settle for already existing photographic solutions.
The singularity of Goldblatt’s art derives, more generally, from his personal history and his view of life. Born to a family of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants who had fled persecution, he was raised in a spirit atmosphere of equality, respect and tolerance for those of other cultures and religions. In the family home, a house full of books, everything was discussed. His older brothers raised his awareness of social issues and introduced him to left-wing thought, helping develop a sensibility evident in his earliest photographs, taken between the ages of 16 and 18, featuring dockers, fishermen and miners. Mines were a particular interest, and as a young professional he would go on to shoot a series on the mines of his home region, then in decline, some even abandoned. These pictures went to make up his first book, On the Mines, a collaboration with writer Nadine Gordimer. To all this must be added his curiosity and his urge to understand, rather than merely condemn, attitudes he did not share. It is this that prompted him, after the institution of apartheid, to turn his camera on the Afrikaaner small farmers he met in his father’s clothes shop. The pictures were published in 1975, in his second book, Some Afrikaners Photographed. His opposition to apartheid and to the misdeeds of the government inspired a long series of images shot almost forty years ago, entitled Structures. Accompanied by detailed and informative captions, these photographs of buildings and landscapes encourage reflection of the relationship between these forms and the social and political values of the individuals or groups who create and inhabit them.
David Goldblatt often says that photography is not a weapon, and that it should have nothing to do with propaganda, even in a good cause. In this spirit, the photographic language that he deploys is simple yet powerful. In taking his time, using a tripod-mounted medium format camera and setting his own opinions to one side, Goldblatt offers space to the person or place he photographs, and thus succeeds in communicating the ideas and values they express.
From his youthful efforts to his most recent pictures, the Centre Pompidou’s Goldblatt retrospective offers, for the first time in France, an unprecedented survey of more than 50 years of photography. Bringing together two hundred photographs, a hundred hitherto unpublished documents and a series of films in which Goldblatt discusses his own work, it enables visitors to immerse themselves in a fascinating body of work that teaches one to look with a socially aware and analytical eye. As the photographer’s friend, the renowned novelist Nadine Gordimer put it: “The ‘essential thing’ in Goldblatt's photographs is never a piece of visual shorthand for a life; it is informed by this desire for a knowledge and understanding, for the entire context of that life to be conveyed, in which that detail above all others has meaning. And it’s the presence of that ‘essential thing’ – and not the detail as such – that maintains the equilibrium of the whole, between the generality of what has been seen over and over again and what is seen in a distinctive fashion.”
“David Goldblatt doesn’t snatch at the world with a camera. He seeks to rid himself of preconceptions about what he sees before he explores it further with his favoured instrument, the photographic image” – Nadine Gordimer, 1983.