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Celebrating the Legacy of David Goldblatt

A Journey Through South African Photography


On February 8th, 2023, within the historic walls of the Oude Leeskamer, Stellenbosch Triennale hosted an event that resonated with the soul-stirring essence of South African artistry. Proudly supported by Private Clients at Old Mutual Wealth and curated by Anelisa Mangcu, the recent Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition paved the way for wisdom-filled dialogue between Brenda Goldblatt and Ashley Walters, head of photography at Stellenbosch University.


Anelisa Mangcu (Curator of Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition, Under the Aegis) opening the David Goldblatt discussion
Anelisa Mangcu (Curator, Under the Aegis)

The evening began with heartfelt gratitude extended to the patrons, organisers, and collaborators whose dedication brought this celebration to fruition. Anelise Mangcu, in her opening remarks, emphasised the importance of recognising the human behind the artistry, reminding the audience that every masterpiece is woven with the threads of personal experience and insight.


"When we are given the opportunity to gather like we are doing here tonight to discuss the work of a great individual, I find that we can often forget to discuss the human being, the person behind the big responsibility that they carried, and what life was like for them."

Surette van den Heever from Old Mutual Private Clients highlighted the resonance between the exhibition's theme of intergenerational wealth preservation and their commitment to fostering freedom through art. Their support illuminated the exhibition's journey from the confines of elite spaces to the vibrant streets of Stellenbosch.


In Conversation with Brenda Goldblatt hosted by Ashley Walters and presented by the Stellenbosch Triennale and Private Clients by Old Mutual Wealth for the Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition
Surette van den Heever from Old Mutual Private Clients


As the stage was set for a profound exploration, Ashley Walters guided the audience through the intricate tapestry of David Goldblatt's life and work. Brenda Goldblatt's presence added a deeply personal dimension, offering insights into the man behind the lens and the familial context that shaped his vision. Speaking to Brenda in person provided the audience an opportunity to discover some of that nuance that was not necessarily written or covered in books.


"David Goldblatt's journey into photography was not merely a profession but a deep exploration of his surroundings. His early experiences in his family's business and the landscapes of Johannesburg laid the foundation for a lifelong dedication to capturing the essence of South Africa. David used to go photograph boats so he could build them. This is really how he started to acquire the skill and became more interested in the medium. My grandfather ran an outfitting business in Randburg, which was the epicentre of the family. By the time he was 18, my father was working in the business, and when my grandfather fell ill with cancer David took over operations in his mid-twenties. It was during this time when David started walking around Johannesburg, looking and photographing. This would be what he would continue to do for the rest of his life. As he became better at it, his father was very supportive of the idea of observational photography. He didn't really have a model of what to do, but he carried on working nevertheless. He only left the shop when his father died, and then became a photographer in earnest."

Goldblatt's approach to photography was characterised by meticulous observation and a commitment to authenticity. He navigated the complexities of apartheid-era South Africa with sensitivity, documenting the nuances of everyday life with profound empathy.


In Conversation with Brenda Goldblatt hosted by Ashley Walters and presented by the Stellenbosch Triennale and Private Clients by Old Mutual Wealth for the Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition
Ashley Walters (Left) & Brenda Goldblatt (Right)


Through his lens, Goldblatt transcended mere imagery, offering windows into the soul of a nation grappling with its past and envisioning its future. His shift to colour photography post-1994 mirrored the evolving landscape of hope and transformation in South Africa.


Goldblatt's legacy extends far beyond the borders of his homeland, resonating deeply within the global artistic community. His ability to distil the essence of human experience into visual narratives earned him accolades such as the prestigious Hasselblad Award.


The time he spent 'poeging' (which was his made-up word for strolling around taking photos of his surroundings) really built his creative muscle. It taught him how to look, and what interested him. It also gave him the opportunity to differentiate himself from his American contemporaries like Walter Evans and Dorothea Lange. The light here was different, and the life there was different, and it allowed him to find his own way.

As Brenda Goldblatt shared anecdotes and reflections on her father's life, the audience was reminded of the power of storytelling to bridge the gaps between generations and cultures. David Goldblatt's work serves as a timeless testament to the enduring power of art to illuminate the human condition and inspire meaningful dialogue.


In Conversation with Brenda Goldblatt hosted by Ashley Walters and presented by the Stellenbosch Triennale and Private Clients by Old Mutual Wealth for the Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition
Ashley Walters (Left) & Brenda Goldblatt (Right)
In the words of Goldblatt himself, "It was to the quiet and commonplace, where nothing happened and yet all was contained and immanent, that I was drawn."

Through his lens, he invited us to see the extraordinary within the ordinary, to find beauty in the mundane, and to embrace the complexities of our shared humanity.


As the evening drew to a close, attendees departed with hearts and minds enriched by the legacy of David Goldblatt, carrying forward the torch of artistic expression and social consciousness. In honouring his memory, we reaffirm our commitment to storytelling as a catalyst for change and a celebration of the rich tapestry of human experience.


In Conversation with Brenda Goldblatt hosted by Ashley Walters and presented by the Stellenbosch Triennale and Private Clients by Old Mutual Wealth for the Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition
Attendees at Oude Leeskamer in Stellenbosch

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