Ex-offenders at the Scene of Crime

David Goldblatt

Given South Africa’s history and present conditions… I, in fear, humiliation, helplessness and anger at hold-ups threatening force and knives and guns, have asked: Who is doing this to us? Who are you? Are you monsters? Are you ordinary people – if there are such? How did you come to this? What is your life? Could you be my children? Could I be you?  I decided to explore these questions through photographs and words.

 David Goldblatt

Ex-offenders at the Scene of Crime by South African photographer David Goldblatt explores crime through photographs and life stories of ex-offenders in the UK and South Africa.

David was born in South Africa and has been a photographer since 1963. His work explores aspects of South African society but his present concern is with crime. David is not a social worker or a journalist; he seeks to make photographs and tell life stories that might deepen our understanding of people and their circumstances – to see people who have committed crimes not as the sudden forces and threats that many have experienced, nor as names in news reports, but as individuals.

I wanted to meet people who had done crime, or been accused of it, and punished. I wanted to meet them not as incarcerated criminals, but paroled or free. I wanted to photograph them not in re-enactment of crime, but in stillness at the scene of crime. And I wanted to record whatever they wished to tell me of their life. And do this not as a journalist or an activist, but simply out of a wish to know. The project was broadened when I was invited by Multistory to make photographs and I chose to pursue a similar enquiry to the one I have done in South Africa.  

I am not seeking to make dramatic photographs of criminals; nor do I wish to re-enact crimes. I want to make straightforward portraits that are in some, probably indefinable way, eloquent of something that was irrevocably life changing for them, their victims and their families. I also ask those I have photographed to tell me their life story and these are shown alongside the portraits in my books and exhibitions.

Multistory has been working with David Goldblatt since 2012 to bring his South African project to the UK.

The project culminates in Ex-offenders at Scene of Crime, a new book published by Steidl in 2017. The work was also exhibited at HMP Birmingham and HMP Manchester in May 2017, exclusively for the prisoners and staff, with a launch event at both for invited guests. David spoke about the project at West Bromwich Town Hall on Mon 22 May 2017. For a full Press Release click here.

David Goldblatt was born in 1930 in South Africa and since the 1960s he has devoted all of his time to photography. In 1989, he founded the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg. In 1998 he was the first South African to be given a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. David was one of the few South African artists to exhibit at Documenta 11 (2002) and Documenta 12 (2007) in Kassel, Germany. He has held solo exhibitions at the Jewish Museum and the New Museum, both in New York. His work was included in the exhibition ILLUMInations at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011, and has featured on shows at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Barbican Centre in London. David has published several books of his work. He is the recipient of the 2006 Hasselblad award, the 2009 Henri Cartier-Bresson Award, and the 2013 ICP Infinity Award.