April 30th, 2013

A Tribute to David Goldblatt, ICP’s 2013 Lifetime Achievement Honoree

David Goldblatt, The Transported of the KwaNdebele: Travellers from KwaNdebele buying weekly season tickets at the PUTCO bus depot in Marabastad, Pretoria, 1983. © David Goldbatt/The Goodman Gallery

The Transported of the KwaNdebele: Travellers from KwaNdebele buying weekly season tickets at the PUTCO bus depot in Marabastad, Pretoria, 1983. © David Goldbatt/The Goodman Gallery

Imagine photographs by Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson.  Wait a moment, then imagine some more by Diane Arbus and others by Sebastian Salgado.  Good.  Being the sort of person who reads this blog, you probably just conjured a dozen or more vividly remembered images in your mind’s eye.

Now imagine a photograph by David Goldblatt.  Thought so.  Unless you’re a fellow South African or one of his fans, you probably drew a blank.  He’s one of the world’s most honored living photographers, a man who is greatly respected and, yet, is little known.  It’s a paradox.

On Wednesday evening, when the International Center of Photography [ICP] confers on him its Cornell Capa Lifetime Achievement Award, Goldblatt will collect yet another prestigious award.  He’ll add this to his resume, right above the 2006 Hasselblad Award, 2009 Henri Cartier-Bresson Award, and the 2010 Lucie Award for Lifetime Achievement.

As prestigious as those honors surely are, they’re little more than the icing on a magnificent cake.  Over a 50-year career, Goldblatt has been the subject of exhibitions at major museums in Europe, Africa, and North America, including solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1998, and the Jewish Museum, in 2010.  In addition, leading publishers of photography have produced a dozen books devoted to his work.

It’s an impressive list of accomplishments by any measure.  So, why isn’t Goldblatt’s photography as well known as his name?  And what’s his photography all about anyway?  (more…)