For over 60 years, David Goldblatt has documented the social and political developments of his native South Africa with a critical yet compassionate eye. Drawn "to the quiet and commonplace, where nothing 'happened' and yet all was contained and immanent...," Goldblatt photographs the complexities of everyday life to reveal the far-reaching effects of apartheid and the post-apartheid conditions that continue to impact the country's social fabric to this day. As Ingrid Sischy writes in her introduction to Kith, Kin and Khaya: South African Photographs, "David Goldblatt is a true misfit in the history of photography. A stand-out whose commitment to the medium is epic. He is one of a kind, and his images of South Africa, taken from the 1940's and still going, will only be more reverberative as time goes on."
Goldblatt's photographic essay on homeland transport, The Transported of KwaNdebele, 1983–1984, illuminates the oppressive geographic displacement imposed by apartheid. Commissioned for the Second Carnegie Inquiry into Poverty and Development in Southern Africa, these photographs depict the commuting workers of KwaNdebele, who spend between 3 1/2 and 8 hours each day traveling to and from their jobs in the metropolitan city of Pretoria. As apartheid policy required the segregation of black South Africans in tribal Bantustans or homelands, millions were forcibly relocated to remote, rural settlement camps that lacked employment opportunities. Heavily subsidized bus and rail services were established to facilitate the movement of workers between these camps and their workplaces in the country's white economic centers.
Goldblatt's images follow KwaNdebele's nightriders through their daily ritual of interminable, overcrowded commutes on dusty, rutted roads and render visible their physical and psychological experiences of alienation and dislocation. The bus ride alone speaks powerfully to the abhorrent conditions which so profoundly concern Goldblatt.
Affected by the ubiquity of violence and fundamental lawlessness in South Africa, where crime rates are among the highest in the world, Goldblatt sought to look past statistics and expose the humanity of perpetrators in his series Ex-Offenders at the Scene of Crime, 2008–2015. Through prisoner rehabilitation organizations, he approached former criminals or ex-offenders on parole and photographed them at the life-changing sites where their crimes occurred. The gripping portraits are accompanied by personal narratives, summarized from interviews with the artist, which recount the subjects' stories and felonies. As Goldblatt explains, his pictures contain no social agenda: "My interest in ex-offenders arises from a wish to know who are the people who are doing the crimes and to get a sense of their life and how they came to crime. Could these people be my children? Could they be you? Or me?" In 2012, at the invitation of the West Bromwich based community arts center, Multistory, Goldblatt expanded his project to include ex-offenders in England's Black Country.