JOHANNESBURG (AP) — David Goldblatt, a South African photographer who for decades chronicled the harsh fallout of white minority rule in his country, died on Monday at the age of 87.
Goldblatt, whose images were shown in media and museums around the world, was a “legend, a teacher, a national icon and a man of absolute integrity,” the Johannesburg-based Goodman Gallery said in a statement. The photographer died “peacefully” at his home in the city, said the gallery, which showcased his portfolio.
Goldblatt used his cameras to explore apartheid and its devastating impact on daily lives, photographing blacks and whites in quiet ways that highlighted the state-backed system of racial repression, in contrast to news photography that focused on tumultuous events making international headlines. Apartheid ended with all-race elections in 1994 that propelled Nelson Mandela to the presidency.
Descended from Lithuanian immigrants, Goldblatt documented South African blacks working in mines or traveling under racist laws that restricted their movements, as well as privileged whites at home, along with routine interactions between the races that showed, in his words, how South Africa’s normality was distinctly abnormal and abhorrent.
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“During those years my prime concern was with values — what did we value in South Africa, how did we get to those values and how did we express those values,” Goldblatt once said, according to the Goodman Gallery. “I was very interested in the events that were taking place in the country as a citizen but, as a photographer, I’m not particularly interested, and I wasn’t then, in photographing the moment that something happens. I’m interested in the conditions that give rise to events.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa, a close aide to Mandela and key negotiator in the early 1990s transition to democracy, said in a statement after Goldblatt’s death that he was a “leading documenter” of the South African struggle.
“He captured the social and moral value systems that portrayed South Africa during a period of apartheid system in order to influence its changing political landscape,” Ramaphosa said. “Our country remains proud of his contribution to the portrayal of its life through the medium of photography and for leaving an indelible mark in our inclusive literary culture.”
Goldblatt started to photograph his country when he was 18, and today his photographs are included in collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and other museums around the world, according to the Goodman Gallery. The Centre Pompidou in Paris held a retrospective of his work earlier this year and another exhibition will open at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in October, it said.
Goldblatt’s archive of negatives will be transferred to Yale University under a recently signed agreement, the gallery said.
His funeral will be held Tuesday.
Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris