Lesson: David Goldblatt: Stuctures and Normativity, looking at Photography

  • Grade Level: High School (9 - 12 grade)
  • Subject Area: South Africa, HIV/AIDS, Social History, Architecture
  • "Woman with her dog, Hillbrow, Johannesburg, 1972." "Woman with her dog, Hillbrow, Johannesburg, 1972."
  • "Lulu Gebashe and Solomon Mlutshana, Mofolo Park, Soweto, Johannesburg, January 1973.""Lulu Gebashe and Solomon Mlutshana, Mofolo Park, Soweto, Johannesburg, January 1973."
  • "Watchman, Hillbrow, Johannesburg, June 1972.""Watchman, Hillbrow, Johannesburg, June 1972."
  • "Mother and child in their home after the destruction of its shelter by officials of the Western Cape Development Board, Crossroads, Cape Town, 11 October 1984.""Mother and child in their home after the destruction of its shelter by officials of the Western Cape Development Board, Crossroads, Cape Town, 11 October 1984."
  • "After their funeral, a child salutes the Cradock Four, Cradock, Eastern Cape, 20 July 1985.""After their funeral, a child salutes the Cradock Four, Cradock, Eastern Cape, 20 July 1985."
  • "Our summer garden and ADT, Fellside, Johannesburg, 9 January 2006." "Our summer garden and ADT, Fellside, Johannesburg, 9 January 2006."
  • "At Kevin Kwanele’s Takwaito Barber, Lansdowne Road, Khayelitsha, Cape Town, in the time of AIDS, 16 May 2007.""At Kevin Kwanele’s Takwaito Barber, Lansdowne Road, Khayelitsha, Cape Town, in the time of AIDS, 16 May 2007."
  • "JOIN! OUR CLUB for only 12.94 a month and receive over 13 family benefits including a funeral plan, Ellerines, Beaufort West, in the time of AIDS, 14 March 2007." "JOIN! OUR CLUB for only 12.94 a month and receive over 13 family benefits including a funeral plan, Ellerines, Beaufort West, in the time of AIDS, 14 March 2007."

Introduction:

written by Yvonne C. Olivas

David Goldblatt has been photographing the people, landscape, and architecture of South Africa for over fifty years. He was born in 1930 to parents who had fled religious persecution in Lithuania. It was in the early 1960s, during the years of apartheid, that Greenblatt started as a photographer. Over the course of several decades he worked mainly in black and white, and only more recently has he started to produce works in color. “Intersections Intersected: The Photography of David Goldblatt” brings together over 100 images. Some are displayed as paired images and some as triptychs. This is a new format for Goldblatt. In an interview he suggests that pairing older and newer images “are not specifically then and now—not at all. They are various kinds of pairings here; there are pairings that relate to meaning, pairings that relate to ideas, pairings that relate to then and now, so it’s a mixture of things.” Similarly, the triptychs allow for broader meaning than a single image, and different meaning from that of a series. Goldblatt also labels his photographs, often with extensive captions, letting the viewer know that he wants them to be aware of the context of the photograph—and what is perhaps not directly observable in the image.

Background:

In the 1600s, the British and the Dutch East India Company, among other European entities, began to colonize South Africa. English dominance led Dutch descendants, known as Afrikaners, to found their own colonies, but conflict over claimed resources, like diamonds, persisted. However, in the early 1900s, the Afrikaners won independence from England and gained political strength. In the 1940s the Afrikaner National Party, or the National Party, held sway. In 1948 apartheid laws were enacted, systematizing and institutionalizing a practice that included racial separation that was already in place. Apartheid severely restricted, circumscribed, and was targeted to affect the physical, economic, geographic, and legal circumstances and lives of all non-white South Africans. The spread of AIDS in South Africa was no doubt exacerbated by the severity of apartheid disenfranchisement. While apartheid officially came to an end with democratic general elections in 1994, its specter remains.

Suggested Procedures: 

Have your students read the New York Times review of the David Goldblatt exhibition at the New Museum by Ken Johnson, and the short interview with Goldblatt by Benedicte Brocks. Also have them listen to David Goldblatt speak about “Structures” on the New Museum “Intersections Intersected” page: http://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/414.  

Discussion:

1) Please view the following images together:  

  • Woman with Her Dog, Hillbrow, Johannesburg, 1972  
  • Lulu Gebashe and Solomon Mlutshana, Mofolo Park, Soweto, Johannesburg, January 1973  
  • Watchman, Hillbrow, Johannesburg, June 1972 

a.) David Goldblatt started using color photography in the late 1990s.

  • Have your students think about black-and-white photography versus color. What ideas do both conjure up for them?  

b.) Have your students look at the photographs. Then have them look again, read the captions to the photographs, and pay attention to where they were taken. In his interview (link below) Goldblatt talks about Soweto and Hillbrow.

  • Does knowing that Soweto was a black township in Johannesburg, and that in the 1970s, Hillbrow was a “whites-only” neighborhood change your understanding of the image? How?
  • What kinds of images did you expect to see knowing that apartheid existed during this period? Riots? Protests? What do we see instead?  
  • If you wanted to argue that these portraits are records of conflict, or even of violence, how would you make your argument?

2) You will be looking at the following images together:

PAIR:   

  • After Their Funeral, A Child Salutes the Cradock Four, Cradock, Eastern Cape, 20 July 1985
  • The Graves of the Cradock Four, Cradock, Eastern Cape, 14 October 2004
  • Our Summer Garden and ADT, Fellside, Johannesburg, 9 January 2006
  • Bush Babies Occur in This Area, Fourways, Johannesburg, 29 March 2007

There are many points to touch upon when looking at these images and reading their accompanying captions. Overall, try to direct the discussion to structures in all their manifestations—physical, invisible, symbolic, normative, socioeconomic, etc. What are they? And how do they inform how we relate to our environment, the people around us, and imply the roles and expectations to which we should aspire?

To begin this discussion, ask your students about the structures they encounter or notice on their way to school. Fences? Street signs? Billboards or advertisements? The turnstile before entering the subway? What function does the fence serve? Or the street sign? Or the image on the billboard? We see these things every day, yet very seldom pay attention to the subtle ways they structure our relationship to our immediate surroundings. What do these things actually tell us about how we are expected to relate to our environments? What do they say about how we are supposed to see ourselves in relation to the world at large?

Once this discussion has begun, start incorporating the photographs.

The text accompanying the photograph The Graves of the Cradock Four tells us that those who killed the anti-apartheid activists (the Cradock Four) were not granted amnesty for their crimes. However, they were never prosecuted either. In one image a young child raises his fist, presumably in solidarity with the anti-apartheid activists, whose fresh graves are shown behind him. These deaths have significant and immediate meaning for a small child. Compare this to its paired image, in which the government, in its own way, tries to commemorate their actions with the classical touches (note the columns and pediments of the memorial site) that signify the work of a democracy. And yet (because the killers were never prosecuted), the government has not the means or the ambition to fill out the obligations of its symbolism.

When your students look at Western Cape Development Board and read its accompanying caption, remind them that the following was the caption that accompanied the image in the Times review:

“…heartbreaking, but also puzzling. Presumably the woman was in violation of some ordinance, but we don't know what the law was or what it was intended to do.”

At this point, start asking your students to list the structures they see. You can build upon the previous conversation you had about what they see in their own lives and take the conversation further:

Law and government are invoked and referenced in these images:  

  • Why were four burial mounds replaced by a gate and small monuments referencing classical temples? What is the significance of this gesture, or change?         
  • Why would the caption to Western Cape Development Board in the New York Times mention that the woman whose house was taken down was breaking the law?
  • Does the idea of the law or government affect your idea of right and wrong? How? Why?
  • What purpose is served by a sign that reads “ADT” (the home security system sticker in Our Summer Garden and ADT), or a billboard that reads “Criminals Beware” in Bush Babies Occur in   This Area? What do these signs tell us about a place, a neighborhood? What should we expect if we find ourselves in this neighborhood? Who is being protected and from what?
  • What kind of expectations do we have about the law, government, and protection? Why? Where do you fit in?

Related In-Class Exercise:

Have your students bring in some magazines and newspapers from home. Break the students into groups, have them look through the advertisements in the magazines and choose a few, keeping in mind that they have to answer the following questions:

  •  What kind of expectations does the advertisement ask of you?
  • Is it referencing hygiene? Normative gender roles and sexuality?
  • Who is the person the image is speaking to? Does this person really exist? Does the image reference race, class, sexuality, or gender? How do you know? 
  • Is the advertisement playing upon stereotypes? What are they?
  • Now look at the page opposite the advertisements you are looking at. Is there a relationship between the ad and editorial copy? If so, what is it? What does this imply about the content of the magazine?

Suggested Procedures:

Have your students read David Smith’s “Female Truckers in South Africa Brave the Night Shift” (link below) and think about HIV/AIDS in relation to the images given below. As you converse with your students and ask them the questions listed under the image titles. Try to make a connection between the structures that we find in our environment, and those we internalize, and how the in/flexibility of these things have real effects for the world around us. Help move the conversation in a way that allows your students to articulate how they experience these things in their own lives. If there is time, bridge this critical conversation towards action. In other words, how can we apply a critical outlook in our own lives? What becomes open to change?

  • At Kevin Kwanele’s Takwaito Barber, Lansdowne Road. Khayelitsha, Cape Town in the time of AIDS,16 May 2007 
  • JOIN! OUR CLUB For Only 12.94 a Month and Receive Over 13 Family Benefits Including a Funeral Plan, Ellerines, Beaufort West, in the time of AIDS, 14 March 2007

 Ask students:

  • What symbol do both these images share and what does that symbol represent?
  • Why would someone tag a red AIDS ribbon onto a road sign?
  • In JOIN! OUR CLUB For Only 12.94 a Month and Receive Over 13 Family Benefits Including a Funeral Plan, the title says: “Family Benefits.” Presumably this phrase refers to insurance policy, but we also see the word very near a red HIV/AIDS ribbon.
  • What do you think the “family” means in this context?
  • Who will this insurance policy cover? Who is not covered? (Think about Smith’s article and who HIV/AIDS affects in that context.)
  • How does the prevailing notion or normative idea of what constitutes a “family” help or harm those affected by AIDS? Who is affected by HIV/AIDS?
  • Who is affected by normative ideas and expectations about gender and sexuality?
  • Can you see the effect of normative values in your own life? Name some and explain.
  • Upon examination, how do you feel about these things?

Lesson Plan: David Goldblatt: Stuctures and Normativity, looking at Photography