Here Is Every. Four Decades of Contemporary Art

David Goldblatt. Several photographs from the 1970s

David Goldblatt. Couple in their House, Soweto, South Africa. 1972

Gelatin silver print, 9 11/16 x 9 3/4" (24.7 x 24.8 cm). The Family of Man Fund. © 2018 David Goldblatt

DAVID GOLDBLATT: My name is David Goldblatt and I've been photographing in the country of my birth, South Africa, since the late 1940s and then full time since 1963. I'm drawn to photograph life in South Africa. I'm involved in this place.

I photographed in Soweto, the huge complex of black townships outside Johannesburg which are part of Johannesburg, in 1972. My idea was to show how life is lived in that place or was lived then and I found that on the whole it was an ordinary life such as people live anywhere.

During the years of apartheid, I must say I found color as a medium too sweet. Black and white was the medium that seemed to me to be necessary to say the things that I wanted to say about life in apartheid South Africa. It gave the possibility of a certain degree of abstraction and yet a strong sense of reality, of verisimilitude.

NARRATOR: On the bottom row, you’ll see a photograph depicting a group of men.

DAVID GOLDBLATT: I was during this course of about six months taking photographs near a coal yard, and there was a group of young men sitting around, nattering, and I asked permission to take photographs, which they gave, and then one of them pulled out his dom pass. Dom pass means "dumb pass." It means a stupid document, and it is this stupid document that black people had to carry with them at all times or face arrest.That gave permission, if a policeman looked into it to be in that area. By taking out that document and producing it for me, this young man was really in a sense showing off. It was as though he had pulled out his pack of cigarettes to show me what brand of cigarettes he smoked. But it was also in some sense an act of defiance. He was showing me, the white man, that he was okay, that he had this document and he would defiantly show it to me.

NARRATOR: The photograph on the far right depicts a couple at their home.

DAVID GOLDBLATT: I was driving past this house and the man was working in the garden in a pair of overalls and I asked if I could photograph him and his wife. I think she was standing by and watching. And he said certainly but please wait, and they disappeared into the house and he came out dressed in his full regalia, in a suit. I then asked if I could come into the house and I went into the house and that's exactly as they were, and that's what I photographed.

NARRATOR: The bed is propped up by paint cans as protection from a spirit called the tokoloshe.

DAVID GOLDBLATT: The tokoloshe is a mythical figure, a dwarf, whose penis is so great that he carries it over his shoulder, and he goes around at night and impregnates women and haunts houses. He's not regarded as a friendly sort of mythical figure. And in order to protect themselves again the tokoloshe, people will often put the bed on bricks or on tins, as you see there. There's a more practical explanation as well, and that is to make more space for possessions under the bed because these houses were very cramped.

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