Born in Randfontein, South Africa, in 1930, the third son of Eli Goldblatt and Olga Light both of whom came to South Africa as children with their parents, to escape the persecution of the Lithuanian Jewish communities in the 1890's.
I became interested in photography while at Krugersdorp High School and after matriculation in 1948 wished to become a magazine photographer. However the field was almost unknown in South Africa at that time and after trying unsuccessfully to enter the profession I went to work in my father's men's outfitting store in Randfontein.
While working in the business and taking a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Witwatersrand University, my interest in photography continued and I taught myself basic skills. After the death of my father in 1962, I sold the family business and have, since September 1963, devoted all of my time to photography. My professional work has been almost entirely outside the studio and has involved a broad variety of assignments for magazines, corporations and institutions in South Africa and overseas. My personal work since 1961 has consisted of a series of critical explorations of South African society a number of which have been exhibited and published in book form.
In 1985 the British television network, Channel 4, made and screened a one hour documentary, "David Goldblatt: In Black and White", which was subsequently shown in the USA [PBS] and Australia. I was a Hallmark Fellow at the Aspen Conference in Design, Aspen, Colorado, 1987 and the Gahan Fellow in Photography at Harvard University in 1992. In 1995 I was awarded the Camera Austria Prize for an excerpt from my essay, "South Africa the Structure of Things Then". The University of Cape Town conferred the degree of Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts on me in 2001.
In 1989 I founded the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg, with the object of teaching visual literacy and photographic skills to young people, with particular emphasis on those disadvantaged by apartheid. The Workshop has been successful in creating an environment in which people of all races collaborate constructively. It operates under a full-time director and part-time teachers, six days per week from premises in the Newtown Cultural Precinct of the city, qualifying about 250 students per annum, a number of whom, having completed advanced courses, are now working as professional photographers.
In 2001 a retrospective exhibition of my work, David Goldblatt Fifty-One Years co-curated by Corinne Diserens and Okwui Enwezor and produced by the Museum d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), began a tour of galleries and museums which has so far taken it to New York, Barcelona, Rotterdam, Lisbon, Oxford, Brussels and Munich. It is due to be shown at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2005.
In 1998 I was the first South African to be given a one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, when photographs from the essay, South Africa: the Structure of Things Then, were shown. Excerpts from my photographic essays on Boksburg and on recent developments in Johannesburg were on exhibition at Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany in 2002. In 2004 the French National Art Collection acquired some 54 of my prints.
Invited in 1999 by the Art Gallery of Western Australia to participate in an exhibition entitled Home and to contribute a photographic project of my choice in Australia to that show, I photographed an essay on Wittenoom, a town that had been decimated by the mining and effects of blue asbestos.
Since 1999 I have been photographing aspects of post-apartheid South Africa and exploring the use of colour photography in my personal work. Intersections, an exhibition of this work opened at the Museum Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf in June 2005 and is due tour to Austria and the United States. A book of the same title was published by Prestel, Munich, in June 2005.