David Goldblatt

In Boksburg

26 February - 9 April 2009

Michael Stevenson is pleased to exhibit David Goldblatt's essay, In Boksburg, taken in 1979-1980 on the East Rand of the Witwatersrand. Goldblatt's book was published in 1982 but this will be the first time that the full series has been shown in the 30 years since the photographs were taken.

The spread of Boksburg's new suburbs across the veld and the daily life of the town encapsulated - to Goldblatt's eye - the intricacies of the lunacy of ordinary white middle-class life in the years of apartheid. As he wrote in the foreword: 'Boksburg is shaped by white dreams and white proprieties. Most of its townspeople pursue the family, social and civic concerns of respectable burghers anywhere, while locked into a deep and portentous fixity of self-elected legislated whiteness. Blacks are not of this town. They serve it, trade with it, receive charity from it and are ruled, rewarded and punished by its precepts. Some are its privileged guests. But all who go there, do so by permit or invitation, never by right.' (Click here to read Goldblatt's foreword in full.) For Goldblatt, the ultimate nature of this social order was embalmed in the insane complexity of the Group Areas Proclamations for Boksburg. They were reprinted in the book, and the relevant pages of the Government Gazette of 27 October 1961 have been enlarged for the exhibition.

For Goldblatt Boksburg served as a metaphor for exploring his own upbringing on the West Rand and the life and values of the middle-class, white, urban society in which he lived in Johannesburg. In Boksburg he photographed life on the streets, in shops and businesses, the sports and social clubs, the churches, the municipality, the homes and gardens and the cemetery. As he recalled, 'Literally for days on end, I stood rivetted to street corners, parking lots and sidewalks. I was completely engaged by what I saw and tried to penetrate and hold with the camera, of the wholly uneventful flow of commonplace, orderly life.' With his characteristic intimacy and dispassion, he dissected the social structures of this town to remind us of the ironies and hypocrisies as well as sincere gestures that were entwined in daily life in this town. An extract from David Kramer's Hekke van Paradise quoted at the beginning of In Boksburg reverberates with the paradoxes of this deluded microcosm of South Africa:

En ek vra jou mos
Ek vra jou mos
Vra jou mos so nice
Hoekom blaf die honde
By die hekke van paradise.
For this exhibition Goldblatt has returned to his negatives of the series and, in addition, has printed several previously unpublished images. He has also returned to Boksburg to photograph the town in its present incarnation, and a selection of these large-format colour prints will be included on the show. Seen side-by-side with the black and white prints, the colour works exemplify the complexities of past and present that continue to shape life in South Africa.

In Goldblatt's previous exhibition at Michael Stevenson, Intersections Intersected in January/February 2008, photographs from essays undertaken in the years of apartheid were paired with photographs from his post-apartheid work. This format was also the basis of solo shows at the Museu de Serralves in Porto, Portugal, in July 2008 (click to view pairs), Galerie Paul Andriesse in Amsterdam in October, and the Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool in December. Intersections Intersected will travel to the Malmö Konsthall, Sweden, and the New Museum, New York, in 2009. Recent group exhibitions include Home Lands/Land Marks at Haunch of Venison, London; Universal Archive: The condition of the document and the modern photographic utopia at the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Beyond the Familiar: Photography and Constructions of Community at Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown; and Make Art/Stop AIDS at the Fowler Museum, UCLA, Los Angeles.

The exhibition will open on Thursday 26 February, 6 - 8pm. The gallery is open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday from 10am to 1pm.

Black and white photographs, 1979/1980

Colour photographs, 2008