Sunday, April 3, 2011

David Goldblatt's South Africa: Architecture, Structure, Society

Holdup in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, November 1963
Goldblatt's other appeal, to me, is his own apparent interest in what I call the "Architecture of Life." Using seemingly innocuous subject matter--homes, churches, temples, shacks, building sites, carts--Goldblatt explores how architectural design and built structures convey past, present and future hopes, yet wield considerable cultural and societal power. By simply existing--or not--a built structure can deeply affect the lives lived by those near it.

House in 'authentic Cape Dutch' style. Agatha, Tzaneen, Transvaal. 10 April 1989

These photos are from The Structure of Things Then, a photoessay and biography of South Africa from the 1960s to 1990 published by Goldblatt in 1998. It is full of remarkable photographs of a land and a culture so singular and distilled in its history and experience, yet wildly beautiful in its imperfections and resilience.

Luke Kgatitsoe at his house, destroyed by government bulldozers in February 1984. Magopa, Ventersdorp district, Transvaal. 21 October

From the book: "Gradually I came to see structures and their form as expressions of value. If it is a truism that all structures are necessarily the outcome of choices made by their makers, and are therefore an expression of their makers' values, the quality of that expression is as varied as the people who make the choices...The period 1652 to 1990 was the time of the White in South Africa. White power prevailed. That time has now passed. We are in a new time. What its values and spirit will be and how they will be expressed and evidenced in the structures brought forth has hardly begun to emerge."

Dutch Reformed Church, built in about 1954. Lothair, Transvaal. 8 January 1984

Goldblatt won the Hasselblad award in 2006, and is the current recipient of the prestigious Henri Cartier-Bresson photography award. The HCB award, given to Goldblatt in 2009 (when he was 78), is "a prize to stimulate a photographer's creativity by offering the opportunity to carry out a project that would otherwise be difficult to achieve." I find this ironic.The project? Walled housing estates in suburban Johannesburg and crime and protection against it as a way of life in the city. The project is titled TJ (the prefix on license plates prior to computerized registrations), and is currently on exhibition around the world.

Read Goldblatt's writings and view more photos at Goldblatt's agency or here. I welcome all comments and suggestions. © 2008 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lady Godiva: Chocolate & Wine or Pre-Raphaelite Lust?

The legend of Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry, either in penitence or securing an abolishment of excessive taxes on the people by her husband, dates back to possibly the 1200s. Yet she is most immortalized in this painting by pre-Raphaelite painter John Collier.

It is further said that her legend inspired the term voyeur, for while when she rode all were supposed to be inside, one man, "peeping Tom" the tailor, did not. And was struck blind.

I am a voyeur... to this painting that excels any fantasy imagined. By the hand and skill of Collier, Lady Godiva is indeed a goddess here, lithe and humble yet seductive in her nakedness, letting the dressings of her beautiful horse embody her class, purpose and confidence. The lust of this painting pales in comparison to any dark chocolate. I will couple this with a poem from one of my favorite pre-Raphaelite poets, Christina Rossetti.

The Rose
The lily has a smooth stalk,
Will never hurt your hand;
But the rose upon her brier
Is Lady of the land.

There's sweetness in an apple tree,
And profit in the corn;
But Lady of all beauty
Is a rose upon a thorn.

When with moss and honey
She tips her bending brier,
And half unfolds her glowing heart,
She sets the world on fire.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Hands of Time

The concept of time. The meaning and value of an old watch, to become an heirloom. A New Year.

I have long loved this Cape Cod watch from Hermes. I cannot explain why, other than there is something familiar about it to me—perhaps it is the leather that reminds me of bridles from days of riding horses. It is petite. Nautical. Simple. Cape Cod. Hermes describes it as being inspired by the solitary anchor chain link. My father grew up on Cape Cod. My great grandfather was a boat builder—by hand. The sea is in me. Horses are in me. Time is all around me, encompassing all of us.

Perhaps it is because my father always cherished excellent timepieces. I remember from a very young age his particularity with his watches--his handling of an old Tudor watch of my grandfather's.

To him, they were investments, emotional and financial. They were precious. They were symbolic and offered as such.

I once summed my father up with the following six words: He was firm, but had finesse. He was simple yet refined. He was precise and punctual, yet always with a wild spirit. I proudly wear his watch now, just as my sister wears one of his other favorites. They hold within them, their delicate mechanisms, a magical way to hold memories, too.

Just as time passes, my father did too. A few years back. And many would say far too early for his time, time, time… Yet time is a construct of humanity. And we can learn to embrace it, often with the help of beautiful timepieces, old and new, or watch it, count it down, fear it. I’d prefer to remember that it just is… time. As we are upon a New Year, it is time to reflect, grow, feel, see, smile, love, touch, remember, hope, believe… in this time... on our hands.

Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner by Rolex - Original Papers, 8mm Big Crown, circa 1950, courtesy of Fourtane in Carmel, Calif.