David Goldblatt was born in the mining town of Randfontein, near Johannesburg, to Jewish parents. Since the late 1940’s his work focused on the critical observation of the conditions of the society he lived in. His portrayals of South Africa during apartheid provide a cutting visual reference of racial segregation and inequality in South Africa. His work is part of major museum collections worldwide, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Goldblatt’s first book, On the Mines (1973) depicted the labour behind the South African regime’s economic backbone. The photographic series of the gold and platinum mines in Gauteng, South Africa depicts underground workers, often huddled shoulder to shoulder with backs bent and shovels flailing. These portraits appear alongside interiors, landscapes and machines to create a personalised picture of a society structured around the migrant labour of black men.
Goldblatt began working on Some Afrikaner Photographed (1973) in 1963. Against the backdrop of racial segregation and inequality under the National Party of South Africa, many of the portraits instead focused on the quaint, everyday lives of Afrikaners. Goldblatt speculated that it is a statistical probability that many of his subjects – namely, the customers to his father’s store – must have voted for the ruling political party of the times, yet their conventional and even kind appearances in his photographs stand in distinct contrast to the Apartheid regime. It is precisely this dissonance that Goldblatt found most haunting. Acting as a sort of reminder, photographs of rural Afrikaners disrupt the flow, replacing smiles with furled brows, and familial company to isolated individuals.
Some Afrikaner Photographed, has been discussed in the 2019 event ‘Representations of Identity in South African Photography’ hosted by Iniva. The interactive talk examined Goldblatt’s photographic project focusing on various communities of Afrikaners (an ethnic group descended from predominantly white Dutch settlers), from his home town Randfontein to other districts of the country.