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South African Photographs: David Goldblatt

May 2, 2010 - September 19, 2010

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Galleries Early Work & Mines | Afrikaners | Bantustans | Boksburg | Structures | Johannesburg

Johannesburg came into existence because gold was found there in 1886. Except for minute residues of the metal now being extracted from the yellow tailings dumps that punctuate the city’s southern slopes, the gold has gone. If the immense wealth created in the seminal surge of its mining has propelled the city along new and often prosperous trajectories, it has failed to conceal or heal the deeply fractured nature of the place.

From its beginnings the city was geographically and socially splintered by the wish of Whites, enforced by law, to keep people of colour at a distance—but not at such a distance as to deny the city their labour and their consumption spending. Happily, people are now free to live and work where they choose and many do. However, the divisive effect of the old and profoundly racialised geography, combined with the lack of upward mobility in huge numbers of poor and unemployed Black people, make a coherently integrated city a very distant prospect.

Photographs are perhaps more like prisms than mirrors. They do not duplicate reality so much as offer a changed direction or view of it. The photographs refract the city’s splinters.