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SFMOMA presents South Africa in Apartheid and after through the lens of three photographers
David Goldblatt, Before the fight: amateur boxing at the Town Hall., 1980; gelatin silver print; 10 in. x 14 3/4 in. (30 x 40 cm); Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery, South Africa; © David Goldblatt.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- From December 1, 2012, through March 5, 2013, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 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).

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).

Goldblatt's photographs are in the collections of SFMOMA; the South African National Gallery, Cape Town; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and MoMA, New York. He has published several books of his work and has been recognized with various distinctions. Goldblatt received an honorary doctorate in literature from the University of the Witwatersrand (2008) and in fine arts at the University of Cape Town (2001). He was also the recipient of the 2010 Lucie Award Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2009 Henri Cartier-Bresson Award, and the 2006 Hasselblad award.

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.

Prior to the 2010 retrospective, a selection of Cole's work was exhibited at the International Photo Fair in 1993 in Gothenburg, Sweden and Oslo, Norway. In 2002, during Mois de la Photo in Paris, Cole's photographs were shown at Maison Européenne de la Photographie with the work of David Goldblatt and Jürgen Schadeberg, among others.

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.

South Africa in Apartheid and After: David Goldblatt, Billy Monk, Ernest Cole is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Generous support is provided by Concepción and Irwin Federman. Additional support is provided by the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation.

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