“Lyricism seemed not only permissible but possible. In the late ‘90s I became aware of colour as a particular quality of this place and its light that I wanted to explore. It seemed ‘thin’, yet intense."
David Goldblatt, Regarding Intersections (Steidl, 2014)
Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Markers of Presence, an exhibition of colour photographs by David Goldblatt. In the late 1990s Goldblatt began exploring the use of colour in his personal photography. Prompted by a new political dispensation in post-apartheid South Africa, as well as technical advances in digital reproduction, Goldblatt felt that colour best captured his feelings about the time.
Goldblatt’s colour photographs are collected under a wide-ranging essay, Intersections, a body of work made between 2001 to 2012, subsequently published as Regarding Intersections and Intersections Intersected. This work included explorations of land and landscape, people, towns and monuments - all held together by Goldblatt’s fundamental interest in our values as a society, and how we express those values in the marks we make and leave behind.
Markers of Presence presents a cross-section of photographs from Intersections. In light of the searching spirit that preoccupied Goldblatt during this period, the exhibition brings together five currents that underpin the series.
i. Fuck All Landscapes
iii. Possession and Disspossesion
iv. Mortality and Memory
v. Multiple Views
Markers of Presence is on view at Goodman Gallery Cape Town (10th June - 31st July 2021)
by Maneo Mohale
26.1511° S, 28.3696° E
time is nothing but tongue & tundra. both are known to me, as are The Names. I alone recite them, as beads on a rosary. thumb over finger, finger over thumb. omniscient as the clicking of my own teeth in the night. Black names: inscribed as they are now, as ochre passing over the swartberg. I alone know them. I care for them, despite the camera’s open-mouthed gaze. they hum beneath me—Black as the land’s true face. nothing of the carceral is bound to survive. look now: how the mountain arches its back against time. how it turns away finally, uninterested.
26.3651° S, 28.1526° E
blood loops its way over the dry grass & splits itself into the mother & the father. the farm is deserted. its flow is gated by iron & wire. all things eventually yield themselves reluctantly to the light. this is the camera’s un-whispered threat—it’s deepest comfort & absolution. it is the mirrored machinery’s click, anointed & made clean by white light. such terrible things have been done in my name. they are fed to me, only to descend into The Archive of my stomach. destined to rot there, like looped blood Blackly thickening to feed & fatten pale hands.
28.2750° S, 26.1478° E
death tightens itself to this soil, promised to us by men & blood. it is the only ribbon that binds the desk to the dust. the spine that straightens both. the same jackal that ran its ears through the fynbos is strung up by its back-paws on barbed wire. isn’t this interesting? decay: whispered to us—close as a lover’s teeth, imminent as the secret of my own tongue. they have left the jackal hanging like this, as a warning.
“this is what they do,” she said, but only to me. “they have nowhere to dump their pain. it is as blue as that asbestos from owendale that blows itself over our beds at night. it is trying to kill us slowly. it is the horror hiding in everything that they have done. they have eaten the earth, they have swallowed our songs, they have burned our ancestors’ eyes. they hate the land that even now, claims us back as her own.”
34.0084° S, 18.4662° E
a record tries to remember but the Black earth spits him out like a seed. he cannot discard himself, so he looks around & manipulates the light. he does not know of the ocean that churns between history & memory. between what happened (what is happening?) & what we capture of it. he does not care. through a thin fence, he searches for his own face, fixating on a pig’s heat. unaware of his own discovery. instead, he hums: look here, isn’t this interesting?
30.1426° S, 27.4674° E
a child’s finger resting on his little lip, like a bee. a mother’s earned & unowned halo. black hands over white plastic, tugging braids into existence like poems. my father’s golden parker pen. mined from a false promise: it’s easier to live better with ellerines. berg-en-dal’s obsidian monument—broken into two & then two again.
how dare you say that there are no angels in this part of the sky?
Driving across South Africa in a kitted-out campervan, Goldblatt describes the landscape as “deep, bland, vast and seemingly featureless.” He wrote that “precisely in these qualities is a presence that is difficult to hold or suggest in photographs. As soon as you try to bring what is before you into some sort of visual coherence, it eludes, it seems to move away. There seems no focal point, no way of coherently containing it. Often it is what I call a ‘fuck all’ landscape. Somehow one has to find ways of being true to what is there and yet bringing it fully to the page or print.” (Regarding Intersections, 2014)
On the farm Frenda, near Warden, Free State, 4 May 2002 speaks to this predicament - one that Goldblatt confronted and embraced in succeeding photographs of the Highveld and Greater Karoo. There is nowhere for the eye to go, no centre to hold. There is something to be sensed, a narrative or feeling that could reveal itself to those who are willing to look.
“I don't see a farmer’s fence so much as an intrusion as man’s way of being in the landscape. It seems a necessary way of adapting himself to the land and the land to him.”
David Goldblatt, Regarding Intersections, 2014
Many of Goldblatt’s colour photographs contain markers of human presence: roads, fences, telephone poles, farm gates and road signs. Yet, as Goldblatt wrote “I don’t think that I actively look for some marker in the landscape, I look rather for landscapes in which these aspects have come together in some way that has integrity about it.” (Regarding Intersections, 2014) The presence of fences that traverse the landscape, as seen in Uitkyk, Bushmanland, 27 June 2004, are also in Goldblatt’s view, symbolic of the division and possession of land in South Africa.
The centrality of land ownership and dispossession to South Africa’s history and present permeate the images from Intersections through Goldblatt’s oblique way of looking. Johnny Basson, goatherd, Rooipad se Vlak, Pella, Northern Cape, 2004 features a member of the swerwer community, people Goldblatt often encountered on the road. Goldblatt wrote, “the swerwers are by nature nomads, preferring to be on the move. But where their ancestors roamed territory freely, as hunters and pastoralists, the swerwers are confined to the spaces between farm fences and roads.” (Regarding Intersections, 2014)
In the Time of Aids is a grouping of photographs Goldblatt made within Intersections. As he drove around the country during the time when the AIDS epidemic was seldom discussed openly, and actively denied by some leaders in the South African government, he looked for signs that people made in their landscapes that spoke of the crisis. Entrance to Lategan’s Truck Inn, In the time of Aids, Laingsburg, 14 November 2004 depicts a circular arrangement of debris and metal drums on the side of a road. To the right of the koppie in the background is a pole with the AIDs ribbon attached to it - a barely visible reminder of the epidemic.
Willem Voster with friends, family, home and garden, Merweville, 2 March 2009, devised as a triptych, sees Goldblatt photograph Willem Vorster’s property within and then outside the fence, looking back at the place he had just stood. Goldblatt brings his position within the photographic frame to the fore and presents different perspectives through which he might compose an image. This gives the viewer an awareness of Goldblatt’s presence in the scene and his relationship to the subject.