David Goldblatt, District Six

29 Oct 2019

This David Goldblatt print does not appear within his vast archive of over 300,000 negatives bequeathed to Yale University in 2017. It was not included in the landmark exhibitions held at Centre Pompidou (Paris) and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (Sydney) in recent years. And, you will not find versions of the print in the permanent collection of any major museum.  Very simply: it is a unique work within Goldblatt’s vast archive, an analogue gelatin silver print made by the photographer himself in his own darkroom.

Within the contemporary market for collecting photographs, it is widely expected that a photograph will manifest in multiple nearly-identical prints. From numbered to open editions, to photo books and museum exhibitions, collectors and curators expect to find numerous prints of any particular image. In this instance, damage to the negative after this printing rendered it unfit for future use. Consequently, this is unique and incredibly rare: the only known example of this image.

Across his numerous bodies of work, David Goldblatt is especially celebrated for his vernacular pictures of everyday life. Dating to 1966, this work is stylistically similar to other Goldblatt street photographs from the earlier period of his career. And perhaps, most importantly, it was made in the same year that District Six was declared a whites-only region under the Group Areas Act on 11 February 1966.

The resulting forced removals of Disctrict Six residents and the eventual demolition of its houses and buildings by the Apartheid regime would cast a long shadow that persists even into our contemporary understanding of Cape Town and its geography. But, on this particular day in 1966, that tragedy had not yet come to pass: the buildings still stand and the children still play. We see only a youthful urban street scene: a singular, captured moment that has become a tribute to a vanished community.

As with so many of Goldblatt’s images, this unique work sits lightly at the crossroads of history: looking toward inevitable change and consequence while capturing the ordinary, everyday moments of South African life.

Kathryn Del Boccio