This important photograph by David Goldblatt has a lengthy backstory. In 1976 Goldblatt proposed a story to Optima magazine on the whites of South Africa. Unlike his second book, Some Afrikaners Photographed (1975), the scope of his proposal was explicitly racial, not tribal. Three years later the magazine’s editor agreed to fund his proposal. Goldblatt was caught off guard but found his subject while completing a commercial assignment from mining house Johannesburg Consolidated Investment, whose properties included East Rand Proprietary Mines, an active deep-level mine in the then prosperous industrial settlement of Boksburg. Starting in 1979, Goldblatt visited Boksburg on weekday nights and weekends, photographing in the segregated white town’s new suburbs, churches, shopping precincts, drinking dens and places of work. He completed the project in 1980. Optima’s new editor was unmoved by Goldblatt’s dispassionate photographs, which included this scene of four white women in a local beauty pageant being appraised by mixed-race patrons at the local hypermarket. After the magazine declined to publish the essay, photographer Paul Alberts decided to launch his own publishing imprint, The Gallery Press, offering Goldblatt’s book-length essay – with this photo in it – as his launch title. In Boksburg has since been hailed as “a classic example” of Goldblatt’s “subtle method”.1
Martin Parr & Gerry Badger. (2006) The Photobook: A History Vol. 2, London: Phaidon Press. Page 114.
Another example from this edition is in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
David Goldblatt. (1982) In Boksburg, Cape Town: The Gallery Press. Illustrated on page 45.
Frontline (journal), Johannesburg: Saga Press, July 1982, illustrated on page 145.
Martin Parr & Gerry Badger The Photobook: A History Vol. 2, London: Phaidon Press, 2006, illustrated on page 115.
Sue Williamson. (2009) South African Art Now, New York: Collins Design. Illustrated in colour on page 287.
David Goldblatt. (2010) Kith, Kin, Khaya, Johanneburg: Goodman Gallery. Illustrated on page 123.