Premier photo award for Goldblatt

9 March 2006

South African David Goldblatt has been named the recipient of the 2006 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography, the most important photographic prize in the world.

David Goldblatt by Lily Goldblatt, 2004

The award, announced on Wednesday, comes with US$70 000 (about R420 000) and a gold medal. It will be presented at a ceremony in Goteborg, Sweden in November. A new exhibition of Goldblatt’s work, curated and organised by the Hasselblad Centre, will open at the same time.

“David Goldblatt’s work is a life-long observation of the social and political developments within South African society,” the foundation says in its citation for the award.

“His interest in the violent history of his country, and his awareness of the symbolic significance of architecture, form an extraordinary statement both personal and sociopolitical.

“His acute historical and political perception provides a sense of the texture of daily life, and an important piece of missing information regarding life under apartheid in South Africa.”

Major achievements

The 26-year-old Hasselblad award is presented to “a photographer recognised for major achievements” – someone who has made a pioneering achievement in photography, who has had a decisive impact on younger photographers, or who has implemented internationally significant photographic projects.

Every year, the foundation’s board of directors appoints an award committee of nationally and internationally prominent experts in photography. The committee nominates three candidates, and the final decision is made by the board.

Goldblatt photographed South Africa for over 50 years, “exploring with a critical view the context in which evolve both the life of its people and the construction of its landscape,” the Hasselblad Foundation says.

His photographs have been exhibited in Europe, the US, Australia and South Africa, and form part of collections in world-class museums such as the South African National Gallery, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the New York Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona.

“For Goldblatt, photography is an instrument that allows him to analyze the social and cultural structures of his country, making possible to sketch a documented and testimonial journey of the evolution of colonialism and apartheid,” the foundation says.

Tolerance and antiracism

David Goldblatt was born in 1930 in Randfontein near Johannesburg in South Africa, the son of Lithuanian parents who fled the persecution of Jews in the late 1800s. His parents were middle-class and moderately orthodox, and raised their children with an emphasis on tolerance and antiracism.

His interest in photography began when he was at Krugersdorp High School, and continued while he studied commerce at university. He dreamed of becoming a magazine photographer. As a young man, he admired the great days of magazines such as Life, Look and Picture Post. After his father’s death in 1963 he sold the family business and took up photography full-time.

Goldblatt is not so much interested in events, in the news, as he is in the observation of conditions in the society before they emerge in the form of events.

“Behind each one of Goldblatt’s images there are several stories, most of them related to vital questions, which affect in a direct or tangential way the values by which the country moved and moves,” the foundation says.

“Throughout his career, Goldblatt has been searching for a photograph that would discover, probe, reveal or clarify some of these values.”

Silence of observation and analysis

In one of his first publications, On the Mines (1973), Goldblatt portrayed his environment, the people that lived near him, in his community, and who worked in the mines. At the height of apartheid, he published Some Afrikaners Photographed (1975), in which he explored the values of Afrikaner nationalist culture.

In the early 1970s Goldblatt photographed the townships Soweto, Transkei and Pageview, analysing daily life under apartheid. “Little by little, the cartography of the different social and political realities of the country took on a very personal shape,” the foundation says, “in agreement with his particular way of conceiving the social use of photography; which avoided the stridency of protest to focus on the silence of observation and analysis.”

In the 1980s Goldblatt photographed migrant workers on their daily bus ride from the apartheid “homeland” of KwaNdebele to Pretoria and back. Many of them travelled eight hours every day to get to work and return home.

Images of packed and sleeping bodies on the bus, with faces worn by tiredness, were published in 1989 with the title The Transported of KwaNdebele. The book reveals the almost banal daily evil of apartheid, under which black people in supposedly independent tribal homelands, which were anything but independent, had to endure great hardship in going to the “white” cities to earn a living.

The meaning of buildings

“One of the most outstanding features of the work of Goldblatt is his ability to discover the plights of a society by observing its constructions and its landscape,” the foundation says.

Over his career, Goldblatt has travelled South Africa, photographing the architecture that reveals the ideology of its purpose and creators. His images of houses, governmental buildings, public housing, churches, monuments, ornamental elements and settlements all reveal the historical values of South African society.

Since 1999 Goldblatt has examined the various aspects of the post-apartheid society in colour photography.

“His renewed interest in the elements of the construction of the South African landscape that reveal the complexities of this country continues to be the driving force of his work,” the Hasselblad Foundation says.

SAinfo reporter

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