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Woman on a Bench, Joubert Park, Johannesburg 1975 is from David Goldblatt’s Particulars series, which consists of twenty-seven black and white photographs of bodily details taken in the artist’s native South Africa. In this image an anonymous woman in a knee-length skirt, cardigan and white sandals, sits on a park bench, her legs awkwardly crossed, her wedding ring barely visible under tightly clenched hands. As is routine in this series, the sitter’s head is cropped out of the frame, as Goldblatt hones in on a detail of their body, a voluptuous thigh, gnarled hand or particular pose. Despite the tight framing and simple factual titles, the details present in each image go some way towards suggesting the race, class and personal circumstances of the subjects, as well as the time and place in which the photographs were taken.
Goldblatt has explained that he ‘acquired a consciousness of bodily particulars that was technical rather than subjective’ through working in his father’s shop, a men’s outfitters in Randfontein on the outskirts of Johannesburg (Goldblatt 2003, unpaginated). After his father’s death in 1962, he sold the business and became a photographer, by which time he had developed an acute awareness of the body, which although most notable in the Particulars series, can be discerned in other works such as Boss Boy 1966 from the series On the Mines.
All but three of the photographs in Particulars were taken in 1975, the same year Goldblatt published his seminal book Some Afrikaners Photographed and a year before the Soweto Uprising, which led to increased levels of violence and repression in South Africa. While other South African photographers documented the anti-Apartheid struggle, Goldblatt sought to explore ‘the values and conditions that gave rise to the events’, rather than the events themselves (quoted in Goldblatt and Parr 2006, p.234). Though his subjects might have seemed only distantly or obliquely related to the vital questions the country was facing, to Goldblatt they were extremely apposite. He has stated: ‘What I have attempted over the years has been a photography that would discover, probe, reveal, clarify, question those values.’ (Goldblatt 2002, p.22.)
In Particulars Goldblatt provides a sensual reading of the body, regardless of whether the subjects are black or white, rich or poor, as ‘affirmations and embodiments of their selves’ (Goldblatt 2003, unpaginated.) Although he published a few photographs from Particulars earlier, it was only in 2004, a decade after South Africa’s first democratic elections, that a book of the photographs became possible.
This copy of Woman on a Bench, Joubert Park, Johannesburg was printed in 2001 in an open edition.
David Goldblatt, David Goldblatt: Fifty-One Years, Barcelona 2002.
David Goldblatt, Particulars, Johannesburg 2003, reproduced pl.22.
David Goldblatt and Martin Parr, David Goldblatt Photographs, Rome 2006, reproduced p.81.