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Fifteen-year old Lawrence Matjee after his assault and detention by the Security Police, Khotso House, de Villiers Street, 25 November 1985
David Goldblatt
Artwork 1985
David Goldblatt's black-and-white photograph 'Fifteen-year-old Lawrence Matjee after his assault and detention by the Security Police, Khotso House, de Villiers Street' shows a seated boy, his two arms in casts.
Artwork: David Goldblatt, Fifteen-year-old Lawrence Matjee after his assault and detention by the Security Police, Khotso House, de Villiers Street (1985). Silver gelatin print on fibre-based paper. 44.5 x 44 cm. Private collection.
Artist David Goldblatt Title Fifteen-year old Lawrence Matjee after his assault and detention by the Security Police, Khotso House, de Villiers Street, 25 November 1985 Date 1985 Materials Silver gelatin print on fibre-based paper Dimensions 44.5 x 44 cm Edition 2/8 Credit Private collection

This photograph of Lawrence Matjee first appeared on the cover of Lifetimes: Under Apartheid (1986), a book of images and words by David Goldblatt and Nadine Gordimer. “We believe that what white South Africans have done to black South Africans seeps like an indelible stain through fiction and photographs,” they wrote in the foreword. “The repression and tragedy of black lives is there; we did not have to look for it, only to let it reveal itself as honestly and deeply as we could… For us, the images and words in this book move with what they depict, to an end that was always present. It is just not possible to live that way.” For many black South Africans, that way was marked by state-mandated intimidation and harassment. Matjee, only fifteen years old when Goldblatt photographed him, was arrested by the security police and dragged from his family home by his feet, dislocating and breaking both his arms. The portrait is saturated with this terrible knowledge – the fact of his assault distilled in the whiteness of those two casts against his black skin.

This photograph is also included in Fifty-one Years, 2001; Kith Kin & Khaya, 2011; TJ, 2011; The Pursuit of Values, 2015; and On Common Ground, 2018.

“I was drawn,” the late photographer David Goldblatt wrote, “not to the events of the time but to the quiet and commonplace where nothing ‘happened’ and yet all was contained and immanent.” A preeminent chronicler of South African life under apartheid and after, Goldblatt bore witness to how this life is written on the land, in its structures or their absence. Unconcerned with documenting significant historic moments, his photographs stand outside the events of the time and yet are eloquent of them. Through Goldblatt’s lens, the prosaic reveals a telling poignancy. Even in those images that appear benign, much is latent in them – histories and politics, desires and dread. His photographs are quietly critical reflections on the values and conditions that have shaped the country; those structures both ideological and tangible. Among his most notable photobooks are On the Mines (1973), Some Afrikaners Photographed (1975), In Boksburg (1982), The Structure of Things Then (1998), and Particulars (2003).

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