Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Intersections Intersected by David Goldblatt

Before transferring power, the Nationalist Party wants to emasculate it. It is trying to negotiate a kind of swap where it will give up the right to run the country its way in exchange for the right to stop blacks from running it their own way. -Allister Sparks, South African journalist

The economic shackling by the World Bank, the IMF and the GATT agreement of Mandela's African National Congress whose 'freedom charter' promised to reduce the vast economic gap between whites and blacks in South Africa, has been the cause of doing the inverse - widening the disparity between races. Economically, South Africa has surpassed Brazil as the most unequal society in the world. The older visible face of Apartheid has not withered and died but simply been given a cruel facelift.

For the photographer David Goldblatt, who has effectively documented the entire Apartheid era through its supposed 'change' to democracy, his new book Intersections Intersected could be seen as a pictorial image of that facelift.

Intersections Intersected represents carefully paired images, one from his various older b+w work paired with a 'post-Apartheid' color photograph. In doing so Goldblatt invites comparison that spans time and recognition of change but this book is not so tidy in its framework. The connection is not always apparent as most actually resist such a linear comparison. Instead they explore sometimes similar, sometimes contradictory meanings but always temporal in nature.

The Intersections project was originally conceived to be a series of images made at the literal intersections of latitudes and longitudes throughout South Africa. This neatly packaged concept proved unfruitful as many of those intersections left Goldblatt uninterested and at a loss as to what to photograph what he found in situ. This concept instead turned towards cross-points of history, society and politics which, as Ulrich Loock writes in his essay History in Motion, were exactly the kinds of intersections Apartheid sought to prevent.

The temporal metaphor is also explored through the physical descriptions Goldblatt created. His shift from b+w to color at the most basic level can be seen to represent the change from a physical world that wants to make clear distinction based on black and white to one where a rainbow of color must now be considered with more complexity.

What we may read as the 'evidence' that Goldblatt offers from photograph to photograph blur the clear markers of division for newer markers of which only their effects are revealed. They are examinations of ground that holds so much history that it taints all that sit upon it, and the masks that attempt to conceal mostly prove to amplify. The physical signs for Whites Only are no longer necessary, the real discrimination has transcended the physical world into one dictated internationally by ones and zeros and unseen forces.

David Goldblatt's work in book form has mostly dealt with subject groupings; a particular town (In Boksburg); natural resources and economic disparity (On the Mines); architecture (The Structure of Things). In Intersections Intersected, it has now come to cross reference itself with a newer understanding of what it has been describing. With time we see things differently. They say hindsight is twenty-twenty, but in a book where we would expect to see 'difference' it looks like a modern face of more of the same.

Intersections Intersected was published on the occasion of an exhibition at the Fundacao Serralves in Portugal. It includes fine essays by Ivor Powell and Ulrich Loock.