Like most of Goldblatt’s work, his exhibition titled Portraits showing at the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town until 10 December 2011 is brutally honest and pulls the viewer into his world. one small seed contributor, Janelle Lubbe, visits the gallery for a brief encounter that left her with a haunting need to want to understand each portrait’s story.









The great photographer and portraitist Bill Brandt said, simply:

I think a good portrait ought to tell something of the subject’s past and suggest something of his future.

And Evelyn Hofer, who has been called ‘the most famous ‘unknown’ photographer in America’:

In reality, all we photographers photograph is ourselves in the other… all the time.
These two statements, an ideal and an understanding, offer something approaching a ‘philosophy’ of portraiture to which I subscribe.


In a solo exhibition at Goodman Gallery Cape Town, titled simply Portraits, photographer David Goldblatt brings together old and new portraits of South Africans taken over the course of his 50-year career. The exhibition includes several commissioned portraits of well-known South African figures never shown before, and a curated selection of photographs spanning the 1960s ‘70s and ‘80s.


At the Summit Club pool on Claim Street, Hillbrow (2_A0275), 1971


Robert Mugabe, then Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Harare (3CT_0018), 1986


In the Alexandra Street Park, Hillbrow (2_9848), 1972


General Constand Viljoen and his wife at a rightwing meeting, (he had just been accused of treachery), Pretoria, 29 January 1994


Also on show is the series Ex-Offenders, recently shown at the 54th Venice Biennale, in which Goldblatt invites convicted and alleged criminals to revisit the scene of the crime of which they’ve been accused, and to be photographed there. ‘I wanted to burrow under the statistics,’ says Goldblatt, ‘to meet some of the doers of crime, do portraits of them, and hear from them about their lives and what they had done.’ Most of his subjects in the series were trying to go straight under very difficult circumstances, which is why Goldblatt refers to them not as criminals or offenders, but as ex-offenders.


Kevin Lamohr of the Junky Funkies gang stabbed a member of the Americans here. Steenberg, Cape Town, 22 August 2010


Sammy Matsebula: ‘What it was like’

Sammy Matsebula was the first of nine children born to what he calls a good family in Nelspruit in 1968. A ladies man, musician, singer and soccer player he tried out for Jomo Cosmos. After matric he went to police college and became a detective at Lenasia South police station. He describes himself as ‘kind, loving and polite’. On the 3rd April 1996 he and seven others – three policemen and four soldiers – hi-jacked a Fidelity Guard cash van at this intersection in Lenasia South. Sammy and one of his police friends drove a police bakkie.

The others, armed with AK47s, 9 mm rifles, an R5 and a hand grenade, followed in a Caravelle. Sammy blocked the path of the cash van here, the others attacked it, killed a guard, deliberately wounded his friend and escaped with the loot. Sammy called in the heist, pretending that he and his colleague had attempted to stop it. That night Sammy got his share, an amount upwards of R75,000. He planned to start a business in Nelspruit. But it was all over by midnight – their wounded colleague had turned informer.

Sammy was sentenced to 96 years, reduced to 22, and sent to C-Max prison. ‘The treatment at C-Max is very bad. I’ve seen guys dying and raped in front of my eyes.’ His wife and daughter died in a car crash – a head on collision with criminals driving a car in a police chase. ‘I was like a mad person… a living corpse, waiting burial.’ Sammy was stabbed; his fellow robbers joined gangs. He didn’t smoke or drink and was isolated. ‘There are two things that prison does…you either become a hard-core criminal or you become a better person.’

Transferred to Zonderwater he started praying and studying – theology, music, strategic management, adult education. He became an HIV/AIDS and Drugs educator, coached a soccer team and trained choirs. He had affairs with several female warders, became a motivational speaker and was paroled in July 2008. He now takes schoolchildren on tours of prisons. ‘To show them what it’s like’. 14 June, 2010


A truly insightful look into South Africa’s past and well worth a second or third visit.


Words by: Janelle Lubbe

Source: Goodman Gallery Cape Town, Photography: David Goldblatt