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A woman wearing a white, short-sleeved button down, a plaid skirt, and a page boy cap looks into the camera, her hands spread on two posts of a gate, blocking our view of the house behind her. A woman wearing a white, short-sleeved button down, a plaid skirt, and a page boy cap looks into the camera, her hands spread on two posts of a gate, blocking our view of the house behind her.

David Goldblatt: No Ulterior Motive



Known for his nuanced portrayals of life under and after apartheid, South African photographer David Goldblatt (1930–2018) devoted himself to documenting his country and its people.

Born into a family of Lithuanian Jews who emigrated to South Africa, Goldblatt focused much of his work on Johannesburg, the city where he lived for most of his life. His relative freedom to move within a society bitterly divided by racial segregation influenced the critical perspective of his work. In a church facade, down a mineshaft, through the exchange of glances between a passing man and woman, Goldblatt recorded the uneven application and reception of South Africa’s political values and beliefs.

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In the office of the funeral parlour, Orlando WestSoweto, 1972

David Goldblatt. The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Cecily Cameron and Derek Schrier. © The David Goldblatt Legacy Trust

The highly descriptive captions he wrote for his photographs—which grew increasingly detailed over time—express his incisive attention to the country’s land, people, and history.

This exhibition spans the seven decades of Goldblatt’s career, demonstrating his commitment to showing the realities of daily life in his country without pretense. Showing early black-and-white work alongside color photographs made after the end of apartheid, this presentation highlights how Goldblatt’s perspective shifted over time, responding not only to South Africa’s political upheavals but also his drive towards self-examination that he achieved by revisiting past subjects. The show’s title, No Ulterior Motive, borrows language that Goldblatt used in a newspaper ad seeking subjects for his photographs, gesturing to the artist’s promise of a fully transparent and straightforward photographic encounter and his dedication to impartial observation.

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Sunday morning: A not-white family living illegally in the “White” group area of Hillbrow, Johannesburg, 1978, printed later

David Goldblatt. Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Jane P. Watkins, M.P.H. 1979; with the Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., Class of 1913, Fund; and with support from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. © The David Goldblatt Legacy Trust

Converging 140 works drawn from the collections of the Art Institute and Yale University Art Gallery, the exhibition also places Goldblatt within a global and intergenerational network of photographers, with a simultaneous presentation of approximately 40 works by international contemporaries including Josef Koudelka and Shomei Tomatsu, as well as fellow South Africans including Lebohang Kganye, Santu Mofokeng, Ruth Seopedi Motau, and Zanele Muholi. Through work that responds to and often departs from Goldblatt’s practice, these photographers reflect the openness to critical dialogue that Goldblatt maintained throughout his life as a photographer and mentor. The ambitious project aims to be a fitting tribute to Goldblatt and the opening of a new chapter in studies of his work.

The exhibition is co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid, and curated by the Art Institute’s Matthew Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator, Photography and Media, and vice president for strategic art initiatives; Leslie Wilson, associate director, Academic Engagement and Research; and Yechen Zhao, assistant curator, Photography and Media, and Yale University Art Gallery’s Judy Ditner, Richard Benson Associate Curator of Photography and Digital Media.


A richly illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition featuring in-depth essays by the exhibition curators as well as texts by leading contemporary photographers responding to Goldblatt’s work. Learn more.


Major support for David Goldblatt: No Ulterior Motive is provided by Cecily Cameron and Derek Schrier and the Black Dog Fund.

The exhibition’s tour and publication are made possible by Jane P. Watkins.


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