PHOTOGRAPHER DAVID GOLDBLATT

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Acclaimed South African photographer David Goldblatt has devoted his career to documenting his country of birth, during and since the fall of apartheid. As a new show featuring his work opens at Barbican Art Gallery, David talks about the role of captions and why a degree in economics is great training for a photographer…


How did your career as a photographer begin? 
I became interested in photography when I was in high school in the late ’40s. By the time I matriculated I wanted to be a magazine photographer. I tried for about a year to learn something about it but at the time there were no avenues in South Africa. I wrote to a well-known photographer on Picture Post. He was encouraging and told me to get on a ship and come to London, work as a tea boy in the magazine office, and that I would gradually progress. But I didn’t have the courage. I went into my father’s business and while I was there I maintained my interest in photography. When he died I sold his shop and became a full-time photographer.

What compelled you to stay in your home country of South Africa and document life under apartheid?
It was quite a slow process of self-examination and understanding. At first my wife and I felt that we had to get out of South Africa, that there was no possibility of bringing up children in a country like that, but then I realised I was far too involved in South Africa. And probably from about 1968 I had no wish to leave.

How do you approach your subjects? 
I very seldom talk. I don’t aim to make my subjects comfortable. I want some tension. I want to make the subject understand that for me, and possibly for them, this is a serious occasion. When I’m taking a portrait, I prefer to set up the camera and then not shelter behind it, but rather to engage directly with eye contact. That’s sometimes quite painful.




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