David Goldblatt's work of Soweto seize township life within the 1970s
The pictures are the focus of the David Goldblatt Johannesburg 1948-2018 exhibition at Goodman Gallery London, which will run until the end of August. It is the South African photographer's first major solo exhibition since the 1980s and brings together a lifetime of work, from early prints in his dark room to more recent color photographs.
Notably, the show features his 1972 photo essay of Soweto, filmed four years before the uprising that would spread across the country and fuel the anti-apartheid movement. The images focus on everyday events and show people sitting in their homes with their families or children playing. Other photographs from the exhibition highlight the racial inequality of the time.
Above: Cup final, Orlando Stadium, Soweto, 1972; above: George and Sarah Manyani, 3153 Emdeni Extension, Soweto, 1972Anna Labako, a Soweto laundress who brought the week's laundry to a suburban white family, Harrow Road, 1961Makana Tshabalala and Ntsiki Kabane, Dube, Soweto, 1970
According to Goldblatt, who died in 2018, his trips to Soweto highlighted the divisions created by apartheid. Describing the experience of driving from the narrow streets of the community back to the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg, he says, “Nothing in my life has made me more aware of the power of apartheid and what it means, black and white to be than that simple transition ”.
Goldblatt apparently had conflicting feelings about Johannesburg, where he lived for 70 years, and described it as "not an easy city to love". "Since it began as a mining camp in 1866, White didn't want brown and black people to live under or near them, and over the years has pushed them further away from the city and its white suburbs," he said. "Like the city itself."
The house painter and his family, Pretoria Street, Hillbrow, 1973Saleswoman, Orlando West, 1972Cafe-de-Move-On, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, 1964Bedroom, Soweto, 1977; All images courtesy of Goodman Gallery London
The photographer also expressed difficulties in capturing this complexity in the film, saying that despite the documentation of many different subjects, it "remained a fragment of a whole that I never fully understood". Even so, Goldblatt's images of Johannesburg form an important visual record – one that may feel newly relevant in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement.
David Goldblatt Johannesburg 1948-2018 can be seen until August 25, 2020; goodman-gallery.com