David Goldblatt - Photographs London Thursday, May 20, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Exhibition video for David Goldblatt: Johannesburg 1948 – 2010 
    Courtesy of The David Goldblatt Legacy Trust and Goodman Gallery

    'In my opinion, a photographer is responsible for critically observing.' —David Goldblatt

    South Africa’s most celebrated photographer David Goldblatt produced an unparalleled body of work, examining the conditions of society within the city of Johannesburg where he lived for 70 years. The two poignant portraits offered here (lots 5-6) were taken in 1972 for his photographic essay on Soweto, a township west of the city, created by the government to provide separate, temporary housing for the black people who served the white population of Johannesburg. Presented within their everyday surroundings in nuanced monochrome – as ‘colour seemed too sweet a medium’ to embody the injustice of apartheid – these portraits reveal Goldblatt’s firm conviction on asserting the essential human dignity of his subjects.


    Major retrospectives of the artist’s work were shown at Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2017 and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 2019.


    Aside from the sold-out platinum edition, this image exists in a sold-out gelatin silver print edition of 4 + 2 APs + 1 PP; Guggenheim Museum, New York and Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris each holds a print from this edition. As of this writing, only one early print of this image, held at A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town, is known.




    In 1972 I was in and out of Soweto almost every day for about six months. The photography was invariably within the crowdedness and compression of matchbox houses and treeless, narrow streets. On winter days the place was enveloped in a pall of smoke and grey dust.


    In the evenings I would drive back into the spaciousness and clean air of Joburg’s northern suburbs. Under the leafy canopies of thousands of trees, I would drive past houses serene in their grounds. And to the comfort of home. Nothing in my life made me more sharply aware of the power of apartheid and of what it meant to be Black or White, than this simple transition.


    Every adult resident of Soweto had to accept that if they wished to work and live in Joburg, they had to reside within the strictly circumscribed borders of a proclaimed ‘Bantu’ urban area. If they were lucky enough to rent a house in Soweto, this was a privilege, not a right, and it could be revoked by the stroke of an official’s pen. They could never own a piece of land in Soweto or the city, or, indeed, anywhere in South Africa, unless within the ‘homeland’ perhaps hundreds of miles away, of the tribe into which they were born. That many were urbanites with no tribal roots mattered not. Their freedom to travel within the country was severely restricted by apartheid regulations.


    I could live, work and move almost anywhere I wished.


    These were the horizons of a Black person in Soweto and of a White from the northern suburbs of Johannesburg in 1972.


    David Goldblatt

    • Provenance

      Directly from the artist

    • Exhibited

      David Goldblatt: Structures of Dominion and Democracy, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 15 June - 11 September 2017, another
      David Goldblatt Photographs 1948-2018, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 19 Oct 2018 - 3 Mar 2019, another

    • Literature

      D. Goldblatt & I. Vladislavić, TJ: Johannesburg Photographs 1948-2010, Cape Town: Umuzi, 2010, p. 114
      David Goldblatt Photographs 1948-2018, Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2018, p. 182
      David Goldblatt: Structures of Dominion and Democracy, Göttingen: Steidl, 2018, p. 148



Shop assistant, Orlando West, Soweto

Platinum-palladium print, printed later.
Image: 37.1 x 36.8 cm (14 5/8 x 14 1/2 in.)
Sheet: 75.6 x 55.8 cm (29 3/4 x 21 7/8 in.)

Signed, dated and annotated ‘P/P’ in pencil in the margin.

This work is PP from the sold-out edition of 6 + 1 AP + 1 PP. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven holds another print from this edition.

Full Cataloguing

£15,000 - 25,000 

Sold for £12,600

Contact Specialist

Rachel Peart
Head of Department, London

Yuka Yamaji
Head of Photographs, Europe

General Enquiries
+44 20 7318 4092



London Auction 20 May 2021