David Goldblatt is 80. He has spent his life photographing his native land of South Africa, particularly his city of Johannesburg. Self-taught in a generation and political climate when obvious apartheid photo-ops abounded, Goldblatt's style is far more subtle and humanistic. Yes, his images convey powerful social statements, but only couched first within exchanges of humanity, environment and physicality. There is no immediate drama to be seen.
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.