Against The Grain at The Goodman Gallery

Discovering the Beauty of Johannesburg Through the Decades

Johannesburg is a city that’s often misunderstood by outsiders, but its residents know it well. We’re a complex mix of notoriety, burden, misinterpretation, and beauty. The Goodman Gallery in Parkwood is currently showing “Against the Grain,” an exhibition of photographs that showcase Johannesburg’s history from the mid-1900s to the present day. The photos capture the essence of life in Johannesburg, revealing a thriving and beautiful city.

In one photo, a woman is seen relaxing at home, naked and free, after a long day at work. Posters of American singers are on the wall. In another photo, a white man is seen walking into the Subway in Randfontein, while a black woman walks close by a sign that reads “Whites Only.” Another picture shows a pile of spades, the same tools used to create the wealth of the Randlords who founded our city of gold. And in yet another photo, a young black woman stands exalted in a ballet class that took place in the 1980s.

Eight decades of images reveal to visitors that not much has changed in our world. There is great beauty, freedom, and a comforting loneliness in our existence in this miraculous and great city. In one corner of the gallery, a few images are dedicated to New York City. An anxious single mother is seen at a phone booth, a lonely man staring into a window covered in the reflection of the American flag, and a young boy sitting alone away from a crowd of busy people.

In contrast, Johannesburg finds two people sitting on a blanket on a sidewalk, sharing food and drinking something warm, looking relaxed and joyous in each other’s company. In another photo, a woman is seen eating her lunch alone on a rooftop in Joburg CBD, wearing overalls that indicate she services the building beneath her. The city is immaculate, bright, and serene.

For generations, Johannesburg has been looked upon as a city that’s deteriorating, crime-ridden, and burdened with civil strife. Yet, seen through the eyes of these images, it seems that our true nature and history have been lost in the comical wars of American socialization. Our voice seems to have been discarded by those who feel more privileged to speak out. The noise of the outside world doesn’t do justice to the silent beauties of Johannesburg, which have existed before and after the segregation of Apartheid.

If anything, visiting this exhibition offers a great gift of perspective, allowing us to appreciate the City of Gold in all its unique and wonderful expression of the world that’s so important to us now and will continue being important to future generations. To truly see ourselves, we need to look through our own eyes and appreciate what we truly are. Our culture is magnanimous, and our city has always been an incredible place to be.

Visit the Goodman Gallery website for more info about ‘Against The Grain’