“THE FIRST GROUP of photographs that I attempted of structures,” writes photographer David Goldblatt, “was a series made in 1961 on places of worship on the Witwatersrand. I came to this from two starting points. The first was a fascination with the idea of faith. Notwithstanding recurrent nightmares during childhood about the infiniteness of everlasting hellfire and uncertainty over the domicile of my unbaptised Jewish soul in the hereafter, arising from an otherwise happy primary school education by nuns, I don’t think I was ever able to believe in or pray to the deity with much conviction — except momentarily under extreme threat of imminent disaster. Neither nuns nor rabbi could ever enable me to transcend the banal with that leap of faith required of true believers. … I was — am — then, generally sceptical of believers’ beliefs but also in awe, and sometimes envious, of their ability to believe. If blind, unreasoning faith often repels me it sometimes moves and always intrigues.”
“Thus it was endlessly mysterious, even incredible to me that people — for the most part ‘ordinary’, ‘practical’ people, probably not much given to abstruse thought and discussion — should pour such effort and resource into the erection of structures devoted to so abstract an idea as God.” The photographer, understandably, doesn’t understand that, for we Christians, God is no less abstract than our father, mother, or neighbour down the street. “The ubiquity and persistence of the phenomenon, the immensity of humankind’s investment in God was to me quite awesome.”
“The second starting point for this early series of photographs of structures was an inchoate but growing awareness that whereas some structures seemed quite detached from this place, the Witwatersrand or, more broadly, South Africa, others grew almost viscerally from it. This seemed to have less to do with architecture than with indefinable qualities of ‘belonging’. I wanted to explore these notions and bring them into the light with the camera.”
Stairway to a storeroom, probably made by slaves in 1781.
Meerlust wine farm, near Stellenbosch, Cape. 24 November 1990
Suburban garden and Table Mountain.
Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, Cape. 9 January 1986
‘Location in the sky’: the servants’ quarters of Essanby House.
Jeppe Street, Johannesburg, Transvaal. 4 April 1984
Hassimia Sahib’s butchery before the start of forced removals and demolitions under the Group Areas Act.
Pageview, Johannesburg, Transvaal. April 1976
Hassimia Sahib’s butchery still in business after the destruction of part of the building under the Group Areas Act.
Pageview, Johannesburg, Transvaal. 8 March 1986
Dutch Reformed Church Mission to Coloureds, completed in about 1980.
Augrabies, Cape. 2 December 1987
The Village Church, inaugurated on 10 October 1841.
Robben Island. 12 July 1991
The City Hall, opened on 12 April 1910, and the Cenotaph, unveiled on 7 March 1926.
Durban, Natal. 29 August 1980
Breë Street and the Dutch Reformed Church.
Philipstown, Cape. 5 July 1986
Left: the Groote Kerk, the church of the first parish of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa.
Right: the Cultural History Museum, originally the Dutch East India Company’s Slave Lodge.
The old Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1756 with the gable and gateway added in 1795, now a museum.
Tulbagh, Cape. 7 February 1993
Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1911.
Swellendam, Cape. 9 April 1993
Dutch Reformed Church, built in about 1954.
Lothair, Transvaal. 8 January 1984
The second Dutch Reformed Church.
Ladismith, Cape. 11 May 1992
The third Dutch Reformed Church.
Ladismith, Cape. 3 January 1992
Detail of the Concentration Camp Garden of Remembrance.
Aliwal North, Cape 29 September 1990
Monument to Karel Landman, Voortrekker leader, unveiled on 16 December 1939.
De Kol, Cape. 10 April 1993
Interior of the Dutch Reformed Church, inaugurated in 1976.
Welgemoed, Cape Town, Cape. 11 January 1992
Rand Afrikaans University: the new campus, inaugurated in 1975.
Johannesburg, Transvaal. 1976
Monuments to National Party leader and Prime Minister, J. G. Strijdom, and to the republic of South Africa, unveiled in 1972, with the headquarters of Volkskas Bank, opened in 1974.
Strijdom Square, Pretoria, Trasnvaal. 25 April 1982