Two giants talking


THE way things were. Peter Magubane’s 1956 photograph of a child and her domestic servant in the suburbs of South Africa.

THERE ARE ONLY a few days left in the season of arguably one of this city’s most important and best curated exhibitions. On Common Ground, put together by seasoned photographer Paul Weinberg, aligns and contrasts selected works of two of South Africa’s photographic giants – David Goldblatt and Peter Magubane, in a project that has been five years in the making.

You may argue that work of this quality in any context would sing – Goldblatt and Magubane collectively became the voices of the struggle against the horror of apartheid values. Of an age – Goldblatt passed away in July at the age of 89; Magubane was born in 1932 – these two men intrepidly went where few were willing to, and recorded contexts which were uncomfortable and important.

But there’s a lot more to this exhibition which is not only about the impeccable nature and magnificent work of both these men. It’s about a celebration of dignity. Coupled with the photographs – some of which you may have seen in other contexts, other publications, some of which have gone on to resonate with the unmistakable voice of a classic – are three videos of filmed footage of the artists themselves.

Structured along elegantly symmetrical lines, the exhibition shows cornerstone photographs by both men. The footage finds both Goldblatt and Magubane speaking about the challenges they faced over the long hard years of their careers. But it is the third video, screened in a darkened space in the gallery that will grab you by the heart and make you want to hold this exhibition and the values that it espouses just there, in your heart. It’s the kind of footage that encapsulates everything and makes you feel privileged to have been born into a world where people like this, men dedicated to their craft, have lived.

It’s an ordinary, unselfconscious focus on the meeting of Goldblatt and Magubane, part of the chronology of this exhibition in its planning stages. They’re both really old. They both have millions of tales to tell. They’re both physically vulnerable, frail and beautiful: they’ve lived life to the full and given back in a way that changed the world and made it a place with that much more levity. That much more of a sense of hope.

Weinberg brings everything together in a manner devoid of crass sentimentality or big egos. You know, as you’re entering this space, that you’re in the presence of greatness. Candid, humble greatness. The real kind. The kind you will never forget.

  • On Common Ground by David Goldblatt and Peter Magubane, curated by Paul Weinberg is at Goodman Gallery, Rosebank, Johannesburg, until August 25. 011 788 1113.



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