In June the South African photographer David Goldblatt presented a small retrospective entitled Fale le Fale at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg. At the MPW, which was founded by Goldblatt in the 1980’s, new and old images were interspersed and the viewer had an opportunity to consider the career long continuities: namely the small-scale stories of individuals and the landscapes they inhabit. Part of this new collection, exhibited in full at the 2011 Venice Biennale, includes several images in which Goldblatt photographs ex-offenders at the scene of the crime they committed. Goldblatt produces intimate portraits of his subjects and an accompanying text, which details the individual’s life and offense.
Today in South Africa crime is high due in part to staggering unemployment and class disparities. Returning to the specific site with subject and story in hand, Goldblatt demystifies what news reports and statistics characterize as omnipresent, even amorphous violence.
The text and image are invariably straightforward and unsettling. The whole portrait never contains a simple beginning and end, but includes subtle ruptures that pose questions about the how outside world, including the photographer himself, enters the frame and asserts a dynamic presentness. With the past transposed onto the present, Goldblatt creates new subjectivities, new ways of looking and finally a pervasive sense of empathy. The exhibitions title, Sesotho for “There and There,” speaks to the complicated flow of time in his individual projects and across Goldblatt entire oeuvre.