David Goldblatt — Fifty-one Years

The exhibition of David Goldblatt, Fifty-one Years, produced and organized by the MACBA Barcelona, is a retrospective presentation of David Goldblatt’s work. Featuring more than 200 images by the South-African photographer, the show reflects half a century of Goldblatt’s meticulous observation of the realities of his country from 1948 until 1999.

Over the years his probings have led to a number of photographic essays from which the present exhibition is drawn. Some of these essays have covered short periods of time and specific places, others have spanned decades and great geographical expanse.

This exhibition traces Goldblatt’s major themes, among them his work on the gold mines among which he grew up, the homeland transport of segregated people, life in a small-town white community, the portrayal of Afrikaner people, architecture as an expression of values and recurring from time to time throughout his working life, aspects of Johannesburg, the city in which he lives.

The photographs in the image gallery correspond to these major themes. Lesley Lawson’s texts have been excerpted from David Goldblatt: 55 (2001: Phaidon Press Ltd). Neville Dubow’s texts have been excerpted from South Africa: The Structure of Things Then (1998: The Monacelli Press). All photographs © David Goldblatt, 2002.

For Goldblatt, photography is a tool that can be used to analyze social and cultural structures. His photographic documents are a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the tensions and the fictions of life in both urban and rural South Africa. As a whole, they constitute a remarkable testimony to contemporary African society.

Goldblatt belongs to the great tradition of 20th-century documentary photographers, as with Walker Evans, whose work has already been shown at Witte de With. His primary objective is to portray the often grim conditions in which ordinary people live and work, manifesting an explicitly critical consciousness and calling for reform. On the one hand he bears witness to the steady deterioration of the urban landscapes and the unstoppable advance of the processes of change and of modernization, while on the other he reflects the solidarity and the spirit of unity achieved by communities in their most adverse moments.

This retrospective, put together by freelance curator Corinne Diserens and Okwui Enwezor, artistic director of Documenta11, presents a broad selection of photographs taken in different communities in South Africa, where the memory of recent history – that of the Industrial Revolution and its direct descendant, colonialism and of the Apartheid era and thereafter – is engaged.

It also complements and expands on certain aspects of Hilton Judin’s exhibition blank_Architecture, Apartheid and After, held at the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam in 1998 as well as on the accompanying publication.

The travelling exhibition has toured the AXA Gallery in New York and the MACBA Barcelona. After being shown at the Witte de With it travelled to the Centro Cultural de Belem in Lisbon (October 2002 – January 2003), the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford (Spring 2003), the Museum Africa, Johannesburg (2003) and the South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2004).



  • Corinne Diserens, Okwui Enwezor