During the 1950s, Goldblatt wrote: "I had felt that I had a mission: I had to show the world the terrible things that were happening in South Africa. But I had long since discarded that grand notion. I realised that I was neither a missionary with a camera nor a political activist. Nor was I, as a photographer, much interested in unfolding events and the kind of photographs of them that newspaper and magazine editors wanted.

"Physically I am a coward; if violence erupts I run away from it. But more fundamentally, I realised that what I wanted to engage with through the camera was the people's values and how they were expressed. Headline events were the culmination of underlying conditions. I wanted to probe those conditions by going to their roots in people's lives. The camera enabled me to be there and it demanded that I see it with understanding and coherence."

It was this desire that would direct his career over the next six decades and one which he often felt he had never satisfactorily achieved, no matter how much others would praise him for it.

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