World renowned South African photographer David Goldblatt has died at the age of 87. He passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of Monday 25 June in his Johannesburg home and will be laid to rest today at midday.

With a career spanning over six decades, Goldblatt is noted for his portrayal of South Africa, particularly during Apartheid when he only used monochrome to cover the social segregation in the country.

David Goldblatt – Young men with dompas

The first major retrospective of his work in the Southern Hemisphere is taking place at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney from October as part of the Sydney International Art Series. When the MCA’s  Chief Curator Rachel Kent spoke to Goldblatt about the idea of the exhibition – entitled David Goldblatt: Photographs 1948–2018 – he agreed, but only if she did a road trip around South Africa with him, which she found inspirational. Goldblatt had hoped to come to Sydney for the exhibition.

The grandson of Lithuanian-Jewish migrants, who left Europe for South Africa in the 1890s to escape religious persecution, Goldblatt was born in Randfontein in 1930, and lived and worked in Johannesburg. He took his first black-and-white photographs in 1948. Following the death of his father in 1962, he sold the family clothing business and turned full-time to photography.

Over the next 30 years he documented the people and places, industry and landscape of South Africa, producing photographs with an intense human focus that offered a powerful insight into the country’s turbulent history. Post-Apartheid, he began to introduce colour to his work, with his colour prints often displayed as large diptychs and triptychs. The MCA exhibition will feature some of his portraits, landscapes, architectural photographs and series related to crime and HIV.

David Goldblatt. Photograph courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

“Visitors will discover an extraordinary artist whose documentary eye has not strayed from the complexities of his country of birth, but resonates with other global histories (including Australia’s) through striking and memorable photographs,” said MCA Director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, at the launch of the exhibition in March. A new feature-length documentary about Goldblatt will be screened alongside the exhibition.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia has issued a statement in which Macgregor and Chairman Simon Mordant expressed their great sadness in learning of the death of iconic photographer, saying: “David will be remembered by the world as one of the great photographers of our time, and by all who knew and loved him as a wise and gentle humanitarian. At 87 years of age, with a career spanning seven decades, he documented the history, people, structures and landscapes of South Africa with a quiet determination; and an unflinching sense of what is right and just, and what is not.”

“We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Lily, his children Steven, Brenda and Ronnie and two grandchildren. David was truly a great artist – though he rejected that description with typical modesty. We are greatly saddened by this loss and very honoured that he gave us the opportunity to work with him on the first retrospective of his work in the Southern Hemisphere,” said Macgregor.

“It has been a huge privilege to know and work with David towards his MCA survey exhibition, travel cross-country with him, and gain insight into just some of the history and landmarks that have inspired his truly remarkable career,” said Rachel Kent, the MCA’s Chief Curator.

David Goldblatt: Photographs 1948–2018 will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, October 19 – March 3, 2019