20
Feb
13

Exhibition: ‘South Africa in Apartheid and After: David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole, Billy Monk’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Exhibition dates: 1st December 2012 – 5th March 2013

 

“We were insiders, all three of us: Ernest Cole, Billy Monk, and me. We each photographed from the inside what we most intimately knew.

Cole was born Ernest Levi Tsoloane Kole in 1940, to a working-class Black family in a Black township outside the city of Pretoria. Growing into that society he came to know, with a depth of understanding that only belonging could bring, both its richness and the hardship and humiliation imposed by apartheid. As a boy he photographed people in the township for a shilling a time. By the age of eighteen he had begun to work as a photojournalist, and within a few years he was deeply committed to his essay on what it meant to be Black under apartheid. At age twenty-six, to escape the Security Police and to publish his seminal book, House of Bondage, he went into bitter and destructive exile. Cancer killed him in 1990. Apartheid destroyed him.

Billy Monk’s photographs have the frank and warm intimacy that comes to someone who was completely trusted by his subjects. They are of a tiny splinter of another way of being: a place in apartheid South Africa of neither Black nor White but of somewhere not quite in between. Not quite, because while Blacks would not have gained participatory entrance to the Catacombs nightclub, people “of colour” did, and mixed there freely with Whites. It was a question of bending the law – within limits. Here you were judged not by your conformity with the pathological rigidities of Calvinism gone mad, but by your immersion in the conviviality of brandy and Coke. We will never know what might have become of the eye of Billy Monk, for in 1982 he died at age forty-five in a brawl while on his way to the first exhibition of his work. He has left us what the photographer Paul Graham might describe as a sliver of possibility.

My series In Boksburg tells of what it meant to be White in a middle-class South African community during the years of apartheid. It was a place of quiet respectability such as might be found in innumerable towns around the world. Except that Blacks were not of it. They were the largest component of its population; they served it, traded with it, received charity from it, and were ruled, rewarded, and punished by its precepts. Some, on occasion, were its privileged guests. But all who went there did so by permit or invitation, never by right. White and Black: locked into a system of manic control and profound immorality. Simply to draw breath was to be complicit. Heroism or emigration seemed to offer the only escape.

That’s how it was and is no longer.”

.
David Goldblatt

 

 

It is the work of Billy Monk that is most impressive in this posting. Photographed in the rowdy Cape Town nightclub The Catacombs in the 1960s, Monk’s photographs of the racially mixed clientele portray them in extraordinary intimacy in all their states of joy and sadness. While his protagonists take centre stage within his photographs there is a wonderful spatial openness to Monk’s 35mm flash images photographed with a slightly wide angle 35mm lens. Monk does not fill the pictorial frame; he allows his images to breathe. Witness (and that is what he did) the moment of stasis before kiss of The Catacombs, 30 September 1967 (below), the intensity of the man’s passionate embrace, gaze, the sublime distance between bottle at right and bottle top, the image replete with blank, contextless wall behind. There is passion and hilarity here coupled with a feeling of infinite sadness – the squashed faces of The Catacombs, 31 July 1967, the convivial happiness of the couple in The Catacombs, 5 February 1968 (he with his stained trouser leg) counterbalanced by the desolate looking man behind them and the mute expression on the trapped go-go dancers face in The Balalaika, December 1969 as the man reaches his hand through the bars towards her.

Observe the masterpiece that is The Catacombs, 21 November 1967 (below). The cheap Formica bench top and empty Coca-Cola bottle with straw, a half smoked cigarette pointing out of the photograph at bottom right. If the cigarette wasn’t there the image would fall away in that corner: it HAS to be there, an Monk’s eye knew it. The women, standing, singing? holding two bottles of liquor in her out thrust arms, her eyes and hair mimicking the patterns of the painted Medusa behind her. And the young man dressed in jacket and time, one arm outstretched and resting on the bench, the other resting curled up next to his mouth and cheek. It’s his look that gets you – she, declamatory; he, lost in melancholic reverie, with the troubles of the world on his shoulders totally oblivious to her performance. The emotional distance between the two, as the distance between his resting hand and the empty Coke bottle, is enormous, insurmountable. Such a profound and troubling image of a society in hedonistic denial. His look is the look of loneliness, anguish and despair.

These photographs that are the eye of Billy Monk, these slivers of possibility, should not be regarded as a “what if he had lived” sliver, but the silver possibility of what he did see when he was alive. They are a celebration of his informed eye and a recognition of his undoubted talent. I am moved by their pathos and humanity.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
Many thankx to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Read the text sections of the exhibition (2.8Mb pdf)

 

 

Ernest Cole. 'A student who said he was going to fetch his textbook is pulled in. To prove he was still in school he showed his fountain pen and ink-stained fingers. But that was not enough; in long pants he looked older than sixteen' 1960–1966

 

Ernest Cole
A student who said he was going to fetch his textbook is pulled in. To prove he was still in school he showed his fountain pen and ink-stained fingers. But that was not enough; in long pants he looked older than sixteen
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 12 5/8 in. (22 cm x 32 cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

Ernest Cole. 'After processing they wait at railroad station for transportation to mine. Identity tag on wrist shows shipment of labor to which man is assigned' 1960-1966

 

Ernest Cole
After processing they wait at railroad station for transportation to mine. Identity tag on wrist shows shipment of labor to which man is assigned
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 12 5/8 in. (22 x 32 cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

Ernest Cole. 'Africans throng Johannesburg station platform during late afternoon rush' 1960–1966

 

Ernest Cole
Africans throng Johannesburg station platform during late afternoon rush
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 12 5/8 in. (22 x 32 cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

Ernest Cole. 'Every African must show his pass before being allowed to go about his business. Sometimes check broadens into search of a man's person and belongings' 1960-1966

 

Ernest Cole
Every African must show his pass before being allowed to go about his business. Sometimes check broadens into search of a man’s person and belongings
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 12 5/8 in. (22 x 32 cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

Ernest Cole. 'Untitled [White Washroom]' 1960-1966

 

Ernest Cole
Untitled [White Washroom]
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 8 11/16 in. (32 x 22 cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

Ernest Cole. 'Newspapers are her carpet, fruit crates her chairs and table' 1960-1966

 

Ernest Cole
Newspapers are her carpet, fruit crates her chairs and table
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 8 11/16 in. (32 x 22 cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

 

“From December 1, 2012, through March 5, 2013, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) presents South Africa in Apartheid and After: David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole, Billy Monk, featuring work by three photographers that illuminates a rich and diverse photographic tradition as well as a vital, difficult, and contested period in the history of South Africa. The exhibition continues the museum’s longstanding commitment to documentary photography, showcasing the greatest breadth of each artist’s work ever shown in San Francisco, and in the U.S. for Cole and Monk. Organized by Sandra S. Phillips, SFMOMA’s senior curator of photography, South Africa in Apartheid and After brings together more than 120 photographs.

“South Africa is proving to be a very fertile and active area for contemporary photography, to which David Goldblatt’s contributions and longstanding concerns have contributed significantly,” notes Phillips. “With this show we hope to show some of this rich and varied activity.”

The internationally recognized artist David Goldblatt (b. 1930) has created an immense and powerful body of work depicting his native South Africa for a half century. The exhibition features photographs from Goldblatt’s early project In Boksburg (1982), which portrays a suburban white community near Johannesburg shaped by what the artist calls “white dreams and white proprieties.” Losing its distinctiveness in the accelerated growth of development, Boksburg could almost be mistaken for American suburbia in Goldblatt’s pictures, made in 1979 and 1980. In them, the quaintness of small-town life in South Africa is startlingly set against the increasing entrenchment of racial inequality in the country under apartheid.

Offering multiple perspectives on South Africa during this period, the work of Ernest Cole and Billy Monk are presented in the exhibition at Goldblatt’s suggestion. Adding an important dimension to Goldblatt’s Boksburg project is the work of Cole (1940-1990), a black South African photographer who documented the other side of the racial divide until he was forced to leave his country in 1966. The following year, his project was published in the United States as the book, House of Bondage, and immediately banned in South Africa; this major critique of apartheid has hardly been seen in his own country. In 2006, Goldblatt received the Hasselblad Award and became aware of Cole’s original, uncropped prints. Goldblatt was instrumental in helping bring Cole’s work to international prominence, assisting in organizing a retrospective tour of the work, and championing an accompanying book project, Ernest Cole Photographer (2010). Selected works from the publication are included in the SFMOMA exhibition, featuring pictures that are eloquent, tragic, and deeply humane without a trace of sensationalism. Billy Monk (1937-1982) was a gregarious self-taught photographer who worked as a bouncer in the rowdy Cape Town nightclub The Catacombs in the 1960s. His work, recovered and reprinted posthumously by South African photographer Jac de Villiers, exists as a raw and beautiful record of the port city’s racially mixed population. These three groups of pictures are complemented by a selection of Goldblatt’s post-apartheid photographs, including large color triptychs of beautiful and sober yet hopeful records of an imperfect, still evolving democracy.

The work of all three photographers are also featured in the ongoing exhibition Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life at the International Center of Photography, New York (September 14, 2012-January 6, 2013), and Goldblatt and Cole are included in Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s at Barbican Art Gallery, London (September 13, 2012-January 13, 2013).

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 30 September 1967' 1967

 

Billy Monk
The Catacombs, 30 September 1967
1967, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
10 1/16 x 14 15/16 in. (25.56 x 37.94 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 31 July 1967' 1967

 

Billy Monk
The Catacombs, 31 July 1967
1967, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print; 11 x 16 in. (27.94 x 40.64 cm)
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 5 February 1968' 1968

 

Billy Monk
The Catacombs, 5 February 1968
1968, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
11 x 16 in. (27.94 x 40.64 cm)
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 1968' 1968

 

Billy Monk
The Catacombs, 1968
1968, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
11 x 16 in. (27.94 x 40.64 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Balalaika, December 1969' 1969

 

Billy Monk
The Balalaika, December 1969
1969, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
16 x 11 in. (40.64 x 27.94 cm)
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 21 November 1967' 1967

 

Billy Monk
The Catacombs, 21 November 1967
1967, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
15 x 10 in. (38.1 x 25.4 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

 

David Goldblatt

Born in Randfontein, South Africa, Goldblatt first started photographing his native country in 1948, the same year the National Party came to power and instituted the policy of apartheid. Since then, he has devoted himself to documenting the South African people, landscape, and cities. Goldblatt photographed exclusively in black and white until the late 1990s. Following the end of apartheid and South Africa’s democratic elections in 1994, he looked for new expressive possibilities for his work and turned to color and digital photography. This transition only took place after developments in scanning and printing technology allowed Goldblatt to achieve the same sense of depth in his color work as in his black and white photographs.

In 1989 Goldblatt founded the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg with “the object of teaching visual literacy and photographic skills to young people, with particular emphasis on those disadvantaged by apartheid,” he has said. In 1998 he was the first South African to be given a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. That year, the retrospective David Goldblatt, Fifty-one Years began its international tour, traveling to New York, Barcelona, Rotterdam, Lisbon, Oxford, Brussels, Munich, and Johannesburg. He was also one of the few South African artists to exhibit at Documenta 11 (2002) and Documenta 12 (2007) in Kassel, Germany. In addition to numerous other solo and group exhibitions, Goldblatt was featured recently in solo shows at the New Museum (2009), the Jewish Museum (2010) in New York – which also traveled to the South African Jewish Museum – and the Victoria and Albert Museum (2011).

.
Ernest Cole

Cole left school at 16 as the Bantu education for black South Africans during apartheid prepared them only for menial jobs. Essentially self taught, Cole worked early on as a layout and darkroom assistant for Drum Magazine, a publication loosely inspired by Life magazine and directed toward the native African population. Cole was relatively mobile due to his racial reclassification as “coloured,” the designation for mixed race, that likely stemmed from his ability to speak Afrikaans, the langauge of Afrikaners. However, Cole was closely surveilled and had to photograph covertly, so he always worked at the risk of being arrested and jailed. He believed passionately in his mission to tell the world in photographs what it was like and what it meant to be black under apartheid, and identified intimately with his own people in photographs. With imaginative daring, courage, and compassion, he portrayed the full range of experience of black people as they negotiated their lives through apartheid.

In 1966, Cole decided to leave South Africa with a dream of making a book; House of Bondage was eventually published in the U.S. in 1967. The book, and Cole himself, were immediately banned in South Africa, and Cole passed away after more than 23 years of painful exile, never returning to his home country and leaving no known negatives and few prints of his monumental work. Tio fotografer, an association of Swedish photographers with whom Cole worked from 1970 to 1975 while living in Stockholm, received a collection of his prints, and these were later donated to the Hasselblad Foundation in Sweden.When David Goldblatt received the Hasselblad award in 2006, he viewed the works and then collaborated with the foundation to bring Cole’s work to light. Many of the prints were shown publicly for the first time in the traveling 2010 retrospective Ernest Cole Photographer, which offered new insights to the complex interaction between Cole’s unflinching revelations of apartheid at work and the power, yet subtlety and even elegance, of his photographic perspective. Ernest Cole Photographer has only been seen in South Africa and Sweden. Approximately one-third of Cole’s photographs on view in the SFMOMA exhibition have never been shown before.

.
Billy Monk

Using a Pentax camera with 35mm lens, Monk photographed the nightclub revellers of The Catacombs and sold the prints to his subjects. His close friendships with many of the people in the pictures allowed him to photograph them with extraordinary intimacy in all their states of joy and sadness. His pictures of nightlife seem carefree and far away from the scars and segregation of apartheid that fractured this society in the daylight.

In 1969, Monk stopped taking photographs at the club. A decade later his contact sheets and negatives were discovered in a studio by photographer Jac de Villiers, who recognized the significance of his work and arranged the first exhibition of Monk’s work in 1982 at the Market Gallery in Johannesburg. Monk could not attend the opening, and two weeks later, en route to seeing the exhibition, he was tragically shot dead in a fight. From 2010 to 2011, De Villiers revisited Monk’s contact sheets and curated an exhibition at the  Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town, including works that had never been shown before, accompanied by a publication.”

Press release from the SFMOMA website

 

David Goldblatt. 'At a meeting of Voortrekkers in the suburb of Witfield' 1979-1980

 

David Goldblatt
At a meeting of Voortrekkers in the suburb of Witfield
1979-1980
Gelatin silver print
14 9/16 x 14 9/16 in. (37 x 37 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery, South Africa
© David Goldblatt

 

David Goldblatt. 'Eyesight testing at the Vosloorus Eye Clinic of the Boksburg Lions Club' 1980

 

David Goldblatt
Eyesight testing at the Vosloorus Eye Clinic of the Boksburg Lions Club
1980
Gelatin silver print
19 11/16 x 19 11/16 in. (50 x 50 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery, South Africa
© David Goldblatt

 

David Goldblatt. 'Saturday afternoon in Sunward Park' 1979

 

David Goldblatt
Saturday afternoon in Sunward Park
1979
Gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 6 7/8 in. (17.5 x 17.5 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, purchase through a gift of Mark McCain and the Accessions Committee Fund
© David Goldblatt

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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