Markers of Presence | David Goldblatt

David Goldblatt 10 June - 24 July 2021 Goodman Gallery, Cape Town

Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Markers of Presence, an exhibition of colour photographs by David Goldblatt. In the late 1990s Goldblatt began exploring the use of colour in his personal photography. Prompted by a new political dispensation in post-apartheid South Africa, as well as technical advances in digital reproduction, Goldblatt felt that colour best captured his feelings about the time.

“Lyricism seemed not only permissible but possible. In the late ‘90s I became aware of colour as a particular quality of this place and its light that I wanted to explore. It seemed ‘thin’, yet intense,” wrote Goldblatt in the publication, Regarding Intersections (Steidl, 2014).

Goldblatt’s colour photographs are collected under a wide-ranging essay, Intersections, a body of work made between 2001 to 2012, subsequently published as Regarding Intersections and Intersections Intersected. This work included explorations of land and landscape, people, towns and monuments – all held together by Goldblatt’s fundamental interest in our values as a society, and how we express those values in the marks we make and leave behind. Markers of Presence presents a cross-section of photographs from Intersections. In light of the searching spirit that preoccupied Goldblatt during this period, the exhibition brings together five currents that underpin the series.

i. Fuck All Landscapes

Driving across South Africa in a kitted-out campervan, Goldblatt describes the landscape as “deep, bland, vast and seemingly featureless.” He wrote that “precisely in these qualities is a presence that is difficult to hold or suggest in photographs. As soon as you try to bring what is before you into some sort of visual coherence, it eludes, it seems to move away. There seems no focal point, no way of coherently containing it. Often it is what I call a ‘fuck all’ landscape. Somehow one has to find ways of being true to what is there and yet bringing it fully to the page or print.” (Regarding Intersections, 2014)

On the farm Frenda, near Warden, Free State (4 May 2002) speaks to this predicament – one that Goldblatt confronted and embraced in succeeding photographs of the Highveld and Greater Karoo. There is nowhere for the eye to go, no centre to hold. There is something to be sensed, a narrative or feeling that could reveal itself to those who are willing to look.

ii. Fences

“I don’t see a farmer’s fence so much as an intrusion as man’s way of being in the landscape. It seems a necessary way of adapting himself to the land and the land to him.” (David Goldblatt, Regarding Intersections, 2014)

Many of Goldblatt’s colour photographs contain markers of human presence: roads, fences, telephone poles, farm gates and road signs. Yet, as Goldblatt wrote “I don’t think that I actively look for some marker in the landscape, I look rather for landscapes in which these aspects have come together in some way that has integrity about it.” (Regarding Intersections, 2014) The presence of fences that traverse the landscape, as seen in Uitkyk, Bushmanland (27 June 2004), are also in Goldblatt’s view, symbolic of the division and possession of land in South Africa.

iii. Possession and Dispossession

The centrality of land ownership and dispossession to South Africa’s history and present permeate the images from Intersections through Goldblatt’s oblique way of looking. Johnny Basson, goatherd, Rooipad se Vlak, Pella, Northern Cape (2004) features a member of the swerwer community, people Goldblatt often encountered on the road. Goldblatt wrote, “the swerwers are by nature nomads, preferring to be on the move. But where their ancestors roamed territory freely, as hunters and pastoralists, the swerwers are confined to the spaces between farm fences and roads.” (Regarding Intersections, 2014)

iv. Mortality and Memory

In the Time of Aids is a grouping of photographs Goldblatt made within Intersections. As he drove around the country during the time when the AIDS epidemic was seldom discussed openly, and actively denied by some leaders in the South African government, he looked for signs that people made in their landscapes that spoke of the crisis. Entrance to Lategan’s Truck Inn, In the time of Aids, Laingsburg (14 November 2004) depicts a circular arrangement of debris and metal drums on the side of a road. To the right of the koppie in the background is a pole with the AIDs ribbon attached to it – a barely visible reminder of the epidemic.

V. Multiple Views

Willem Voster with friends, family, home and garden, Merweville (2 March 2009), devised as a triptych, sees Goldblatt photograph Willem Vorster’s property within and then outside the fence, looking back at the place he had just stood. Goldblatt brings his position within the photographic frame to the fore and presents different perspectives through which he might compose an image. This gives the viewer an awareness of Goldblatt’s presence in the scene and his relationship to the subject.

A poem by Maneo Mohale, titled the names, written in response to the exhibition is available to visitors.

Markers of Place is taken from the title of an essay by Michael Stevenson, written for Regarding Intersections.



David Goldblatt

David Goldblatt (1930 – 2018) was born in Randfontein, a small mining town outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. Through his lens, South African he chronicled the people, structures and landscapes of his country from 1948, through the rise of Afrikaner Nationalism, the apartheid regime and into the democratic era – until his death in June, 2018. In particular, Goldblatt documented the people, landscapes and industry of the Witwatersrand, the resource-rich area in which he grew up and lived, where the local economy was based chiefly on mining. In general, Goldblatt’s subject matter spanned the whole of the country geographically and politically from sweeping landscapes of the Karoo desert, to the arduous commutes of migrant black workers, forced to live in racially segregated areas. His broadest series, which spans six decades of photography, examines how South Africans have expressed their values through the structures, physical and ideological, that they have built.

In 1989, Goldblatt founded the Market Photography Workshop, a training institution in Johannesburg, for aspiring photographers. In 1998 he was the first South African to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2001, a retrospective of his work, David Goldblatt Fifty-One Years began a tour of galleries and museums. He was one of the few South African artists to exhibit at Documenta 11 (2002) and Documenta 12 (2007) in Kassel, Germany. He has held solo exhibitions at the Jewish Museum and the New Museum, both in New York. His work was included in the exhibition ILLUMInations at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011, and has featured on shows at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Barbican Centre in London. In 2017, Goldblatt installed a series of portraits from his photographic essay Ex-Offenders in former prisons in Birmingham and Manchester. The portraits depict men and women, from South African and the UK, at the scene of their crimes, with accompanying texts that relate the subjects’ stories in their words. In the last year of his life, two major retrospectives were opened at Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. The Goldblatt Archive is held by Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut.

Goldblatt is the recipient of the 2006 Hasselblad award, the 2009 Henri Cartier-Bresson Award, the 2013 ICP Infinity Award and in 2016, he was awarded the Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by the Ministry of Culture of France.