David Goldblatt - Photographs London Wednesday, May 25, 2022 | Phillips

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

    David Goldblatt (1930-2018) is hailed as a definitive photographer of his generation. He produced an unparalleled body of work, documenting South Africa’s landscapes and social conditions through the height and decline of apartheid. It was his experience of exploring the mines as a white child growing up in the gold mining city of Randfontein that led him to focus on the physical and human structures of his native country’s dominant industry for his first series. Taken in 1966, this photograph captures in detail the mechanisms and processes of extracting gold from the earth. While the foreground features the foundations that crush and process the rocks, the background shows the transport of waste from a tailing wheel into a mine dump. Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer writes in Goldblatt’s influential book of 1973, On the Mines:


    The Witwatersrand creates its own landscape out of waste and water brought from underground in the process of deep-level mining, and created its own style of living, inevitably following the social pattern of the colonial era of which it was a phenomenon, but driven by imperatives even deeper than the historical one. The social pattern was, literally and figuratively, on the surface: the human imperative, like the economic one, came from what went below ground.


    Presented in nuanced monochrome – as ‘colour seemed too sweet a medium’ to embody the injustice of apartheid – this empty, ghostly landscape stresses Goldblatt’s ability to minutely document enduring effects of structural oppression on the South African landscape. 


    Major retrospectives of the artist’s work were shown at Centre Pompidou, Paris in
    2018 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 6 + 2 APs + 1 PP; The Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm holds a print from this edition. As of this writing, no early prints of this image are known.


    Video interview with David Goldblatt on On the Mines for his 2018 retrospective at Centre Pompidou, Paris © Centre Pompidou, 2017.




    We white children enjoyed almost unfettered freedom to explore the installations of the gold mines beyond our town, Randfontein. 


    Stopping at a headgear, we watched and listened in awe as a team of 20 men moving as one, swung a steel railway line off the ground, into the air, caught it on their shoulders and then walked it, chanting to its place. But we didn’t wonder about their lives. Hundreds of miles from home, 40 to a room in a compound of 6,000 men. For a pittance. Whites were the bosses, they lived in the married quarters with their families. Black men were not allowed to qualify for blasting certificates, thus were Whites protected from competition. Yet despite the seemingly unbridgeable racial divide, Blacks and Whites risked and sometimes gave their lives to save each other in emergencies. Now there are no restrictions on black advancement. Heard across town a hooter signalled the change of shift or an emergency: men trapped in a fall of rock; a snapped rope and men hurtled to the bottom of the shaft; fire underground. Despite denials by the men who do it, work in deep level mines is extremely dangerous.


    David Goldblatt 

    • Provenance

      Directly from the artist

    • Exhibited

      David Goldblatt: Structures of Dominion and Democracy, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 15 June - 11 September 2017, another

    • Literature

      D. Goldblatt & N. Gordimer, On the Mines, Cape Town: C. Struik, 1973, pl. 5
      D. Goldblatt, Structures of Dominion and Democracy, Göttingen: Steidl, 2018, p. 51



Old mill foundations, tailing wheel and sand dump, Witwatersrand Deep Gold Mine, Germiston

August 1966
Platinum-palladium print, printed later.
Image: 59 x 45.7 cm (23 1/4 x 17 7/8 in.)
Sheet: 76.3 x 55.4 cm (30 x 21 3/4 in.)

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

This work is PP from the sold-out edition of 4 + 1 AP + 1 PP.

Full Cataloguing

£10,000 - 15,000 

Contact Specialist

Department Contacts 

Rachel Peart
Head of Department, London


Yuka Yamaji
Head of Photographs, Europe


General Enquiries
+44 20 7318 4092


London Auction 25 May 2022