Books

Photographing the Crossroads of Life and Death in South Africa

David Goldblatt, Deserted farm, Holgartsfontein, near Vosburg, Northern Cape. 16. March 2008 (all photographs courtesy the artist and Steidl)
David Goldblatt, deserted farm, Holgartsfontein, near Vosburg, Northern Cape (March16, 2008) (all photographs courtesy the artist and Steidl)

Beginning in the 1940s, South African photographer David Goldblatt documented the people and landscapes of his country in striking black and white. It was only after apartheid that he felt comfortable with color in his work. In Regarding Intersections, published this October by Steidl, Goldblatt’s photographs from 2002 to 2011 embrace sharp hues to examine crossroads of people, landscape, history, and conflict.

Cover of "Regarding Intersections" by David Goldblatt
Cover of “Regarding Intersections” by David Goldblatt (click to enlarge)

As Goldblatt, now in his 80s, explains in an interview for the monograph with former Victoria and Albert Museum curator Mark Haworth-Booth, color photography “seemed too sweet a medium to express the anger, disgust, and fear that apartheid inspired.” But he didn’t start out on an experiment with introducing color to his work. Rather, he plotted a complicated trek to 122 points of intersection of a whole degree of latitude and longitude. He found this didn’t give him the diversity of subject that he was after, but it did start him on the road. Over nine years, he traveled with his camera to take large-format shots of literal and metaphorical intersections.

The book follows an earlier version — Intersections in 2005 — and with the photographs printed to full pages in the broad book, a few that fold out to triptychs, you’re able to get behind his gaze and pick out all the fine details of the journey. Farming and asbestos mining slices through vast expanses of land, all cast under the strong light of the sky. A goat farmer holds her 53rd birthday cake, the pink frosting the only pop of synthetic color in the Northern Cape hills. While these captures of life are throughout the nearly 200 pages, death and the harrowing past is just as much present. Crumbled rocky remains of a believed 15th-century pre-colonial settlement are followed by ruins that appear almost identical, but are remains of a 19th-century prison built by convicts for their own confinement. There are memorials for the Anglo-Boer War of the early 20th century, recent farmer murders, and AIDS. In one shot, the dried lips of a jackal are pulled back to reveal a snarl as it hangs upside down on a barbed wire fence.

There is a definite bleakness to the photographs, despite the beautiful landscapes, and a more cohesive narrative could have given these heavy tones a better context. Yet Goldblatt has a keen eye for South Africa, his subject for so many decades, and the images he extracts from the meandering are often haunting. As Michael Stevenson of Cape Town’s Stevenson Gallery writes in Regarding Intersections: “He photographs moments that South Africans glimpse every day but do not see, the cosmetic container placed sadly on the grave, the unemployed sitting under a bluegum tree, the dead plastic alongside the highway, the ornaments in the office of a municipal official.”

Piet Sochop, Municipal Councilor, Houdeklipbaai, Northern Cape, June 28, 2004 ((c) 2014 David Goldblatt)
Piet Sochop, Municipal Councilor, Houdeklipbaai, Northern Cape, June 28, 2004
Seliane Vincent, Jonas Togo, Piet Jacobs, Albert Lekauta, operators of the sewage-treatment plant, Theunissen, Free State. 11 August 2004 ((c) 2014 David Goldblatt)
Seliane Vincent, Jonas Togo, Piet Jacobs, Albert Lekauta, operators of the sewage-treatment plant, Theunissen, Free State, August 11, 2004
David Goldblatt, "Regarding Intersections" (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)
David Goldblatt, “Regarding Intersections” (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)
David Goldblatt, "Regarding Intersections" (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)
David Goldblatt, “Regarding Intersections” (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)
Model windmills for sale, Ventersburg, Free State, August 6, 2003 ((c) 2014 David Goldblatt)
Model windmills for sale, Ventersburg, Free State, August 6, 2003
Squatter camp on the fringe of the N1 highway, Woodstock, Cape Town
Squatter camp on the fringe of the N1 highway, Woodstock, Cape Town, August 22, 2006

Regarding Intersections by David Goldblatt is available from Steidl. 

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