Parallel Perceptions

An Exhibition of Sune Jonsson and David Goldblatt

Curated by Alexandra Ellis, Sune Jonsson Centrum för Dokumentärfotografi, Västerbottens Museum and Paul Weinberg, PLP

Berta och Helmer Jonsson, Nyåker, Nordmaling 1956
A farmer's son with his nursemaid, North West Province, 1964

“So many people around us are [seen as] anonymous, gray.
They do not exist at all. I wanted to incorporate my village people into a larger context,
to make them part of the world.”
Sune Jonsson

“It was to the quiet and commonplace,
where nothing happened and yet all was contained
and immanent, that I was drawn.”
David Goldblatt

PARALLEL PERCEPTIONS

An Exhibition of Sune Jonsson and David Goldblatt

Curated by Alexandra Ellis, Sune Jonsson Centrum för Dokumentärfotografi,
Västerbottens Museum and Paul Weinberg, PLP

An exhibition that brings together the life’s work of Sune Jonsson and David Goldblatt sets up an intriguing conversation of two exceptional photographers who shared much in common without ever meeting. Born in the same year, 1930, one in Sweden and the other in South Africa, they began their respective careers post WW2 in a period when documentary photography, having witnessed the atrocities and the horrors of war, cried out for humanity and new voices. Jonsson and Goldblatt responded to the call, with great passion and commitment.

In the northern rural areas of Sweden, Jonsson began photographing a changing world, he had grown up in. The ‘old ways’, traditions, culture and knowledge were rapidly disappearing as the wheels of modernisation turned. He saw as his task to document the countryside as thoroughly as possible, and to make visible the lives and environments he encountered there. This occupied Jonsson for much of his life, primarily as a photographer, but also as a writer and filmmaker. It is here he honed his deeply personal documentary methodology, which often combined text and photography in a holistic experience – bringing the written word into and beyond the frames he saw through, adding poetic depth and texture to his work. His life’s work is summed up by what he once said, “A documentary work is not intended for the aesthetical snob, a distracted consumer, but to those that have a strong urge to increase their knowledge, and incorporate the described environments, epochs and subjects with their personal experiences. Something for them to enrich the inner landscapes with.” Jonsson was sensitised to the rhythms of the seasons and the human conditions. He photographed his people, as Gunnar Balgård  described in And time becomes a Wondrous Thing, “with a soft and meditative intimacy”.

The optimistic winds of change in a post war Africa were slow to find their way to South Africa. Instead, building on a devastating colonial system, Apartheid South Africa became the dominant footprint in society for most of Goldblatt’s life. But South Africa too, was modernising. Rural life, not unlike Sweden slowly eroded as communities also struggled against the inevitability of industrialisation and urbanisation. Goldblatt focussed on these separate and changing worlds beyond the news events and daily headlines. His camera took him to different, diverse and complex social encounters – from rural to urban, black and white communities and all that lay between, not like Jonsson as an insider but more as an observer. South African reality drove and deeply troubled him at the same time on this life time work of discovery. As he once said, “Something in reality takes me. It arouses, irritates, beguils. I want to approach, explore, see it with all the intensity and clarity that I can. Not to purchase, colonise or appropriate, but to experience its isness and distil this in photographs.”

Both photographers imbued with a great sense of humanity explored and celebrated the human travails and triumphs of ordinary people in two different parts of the world. Using the portrait and the landscape, as the two main photographic approaches, they photographed with great attention to detail, their respected societies. Through numerous books and exhibitions, they both shared their experiences and journeys over the next 5 decades, tethered by and large to their home countries, from which they both drew their inspiration and where most of their life’s work emanated and evolved. It was if you like, their collective canvasses where they painted with light, for which they were both acknowledged and received the acclaimed Hasselblad Award.

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the participation and support of the following organisations in the making of this virtual exhibition: The David Goldblatt Trust, Goodman Gallery, the SARCHi Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture, University of Johannesburg, in South Africa, the Department of Language, Literature and Intercultural Studies, Karlstad University, Västerbottens Museum & Sune Jonsson Center for Documentary Photography, Friend Society of Sune Jonsson, and STINT in Sweden.

We would also like to thank the following individuals: Neil Dundas, Rasada Goldblatt, Brenda Goldblatt, Brenda Schmahmann, Stina Jonsson, Odd Melin, Ingrid Nilsson, Kerstin Hamilton and Petter Engman, photographer at Västerbotten museum, for their input. In particular, we would like to acknowledge Karlstad University, which made it possible for an important conference in 2021, Photographs in Conversation. The life’s work of David Goldblatt and Sune Jonsson was explored amongst other important archival projects. This became the basis of this virtual exhibition.

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