by Stephen Chalmers
Goldberg structured his talk as a chronological history of his
work beginning with an undergraduate project in the 1970s. While
going to school and working as a day-care teacher in Washington.
Goldberg made photograms of these pre-school children's heads.
The children drew within the boundaries the stuff
inside their heads. Jim wrote down (since they were unable to
write yet) their inside thoughts.
moving first to the East Coast and then to San Francisco, Goldberg
began a project of photographing poor people in a hotel. He asked
them to write on their prints and then displayed the results in
a hotel guest register. This was the impetus of his book Rich
and Poor, on which he continued to work while in graduate
school at the San Francisco Art Institute. Around 1980 he started
working on the rich part of this project. During the
presentation he discussed how he would edit the comments of the
subjects of his Rich and Poor project before having them
write on the image, and how editing later influenced his Raised
by Wolves project.
1984, Goldberg went to Boston to teach and to finish work on Rich
and Poor. During this period, his grandmother became terminally
ill and moved to a nursing home. At the same time, Goldberg received
a commission to photograph within a nursing home, taking a very
similar approach as he had in Rich and Poor. The clients
of the nursing home were predominately white, and the workers
were predominately of color. The situation presented itself where
these white patients, typically intolerant of people of color,
now had to depend on them for their well being. With this project,
he began working with installations.
leaving Boston, Goldberg returned to San Francisco and was awarded
a Guggenheim. Since he had photographed the elderly, he felt it
was a natural progression to photograph kids. This was the genesis
of Raised by Wolves, on which he worked from 1985 to 1995.
The centerpiece of the touring exhibition (and the book) is a
silhouette similar to his work with children as an undergraduate.
Goldberg references the constructed narrative, how the images
and text aren't necessarily by the same people. In addition to
his use of image as text, he utilizes objects such as a jacket,
skateboard, guns, etc. as chapter dividers.
1992, Goldberg's father was terminally ill and entered a hospice.
Goldberg was invited, along with other photographers, to photograph
hospices. He chose to document his father's experience and eventual
death for this project. This work was also an installation, and
shown in part in a book titled Hospice.
the presentation, Goldberg's daughter came into the auditorium.
Goldberg turned his attention completely away from the audience
to ask her how her day was, and played some with her. When his
photography of his father was projected onto the screen, he asked
her Do you remember grandpa? After answering, she presented
him with a balloon hat that he wore throughout the rest of his
presentation. This aside with his daughter was touching, and made
any questions about objectifying his subjects seems off the wall.
recently, Goldberg began a project on race. A work in progress,
he showed slides of his work dealing with race issues that were
illustrated with silhouettes on diazo material, and included text
from interviews with people as well as research.
his first work with the day-care children to the current work
on race, the use of silhouettes has been a constant throughout
by Carol Inez Charney
think of how many times I walk down a street and encounter something
that I dont want to seea person sleeping in an entryway,
or dazed sitting on a bench. I see them, but I quickly look away.
I look away, as if my looking at them were an invitation into
my private world. Many people have issues with work that is outside
their comfort zone. The wealthy may disdain viewing the downtrodden;
the intellectuals may find fault with the humanists. Jim Goldbergs
social documentary work will not appeal to the masses because
of its difficult subject matter. I feel that at the core of Goldbergs
work is a desire to build a trust with his viewer as well as his
subject, and in turn to find a kind of truth. To be able to look
at what is uncomfortable and unspoken while giving the experience
a visual voice.
Judaism, the work of social justice is referred to as tikkum
olam and is an important component to living a life as an
honest and true person. I feel that this value of tikkum olam
is Goldbergs underlying motivation in his work. Through
the usage of building trust, gaining entry into private worlds
and attempting to practice social justice through the use of social
documentary photography, he demonstrates his own interpretation
of tikkum olam through his art.
has been criticized for many years for bending the truth. This
can be evidenced by Dorothea Langes image entitled Migrant
Mother, as well as Arthur Rothsteins Father and Son
in a Dust Storm. As we now know, in the case of Lange, images
that represent intense suffering and attribute to the Depression
are in fact not depicting the subjects truth at all. In
the case of Rothstein, subjects were posed when no dust storm
existed at the time of the image making. Also in the tradition
of social documentary, Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis sought to make
significant changes in the urban and social landscape of their
time through their photography. Unlike Hine or Riis, Goldberg
makes a commentary on our nursing homes, on death and dying and
on the children in the streets, but prefers to only document what
he sees, leaving the viewer to take action or not, while offering
them a visceral reminder of what we look away from.
on his career, Goldberg considers himself a storyteller and desires
that his audience be able to interact and read the work. In the
beginning of his career, his intention, like many young photographers,
was to try to do work that would gain attention. Although the
subsequent documentary subject matter of nursing homes, hospice
and kids on the streets chosen by Goldberg was on all accounts
provocative, I dont feel that the evolution of his work
has been to gain attention, but rather to perform his own social
intervention through the use of social documentary photography.
In doing intense documentary work, Goldbergs motivation
is to document the irony, the injustice and what he considers
the truth, in an attempt to offer the viewer a kind of reflection
of their own to consider such social justices.
early on in Jim Goldbergs image-making career, he was drawn
to the extremes of the very poor and the very wealthy. In this
early work, a theme began to emerge about attempting to reveal
a private world. Goldberg genuinely engages his subjects, and
over time, builds a foundation of trust with them. Building trust
to achieve access into private worlds is a consistent theme found
throughout his work in Rich or Poor, The Nursing Home Series,
Raised By Wolves, and Hospice.
utilizes narrative to inform his imagery through the inclusion
of writings by his subjects. Goldberg solicits the help of his
subjects through asking for their response to the images, ideas
about the direction of the work, as well as their thoughts on
(and also about) the overall issues endemic to the work itself.
In this way he includes his subjects in the process of developing
each project. This approach to work reinforces his connection
with his subjects as well as their ability to trust him as the
photographer and as a social interventionist.
use of installation appears to be meant as a way of referencing
the dissonance of his subjects worlds. In working with an
installation environment, Goldberg seeks to replicate bits and
pieces of the elements which hold meaning to his subjects as well
as to begin to recreate a taste of the chaos encountered in their
actual environments. This kind of intense chaos is repeatedly
presented to him by the kids on the street and summed up when
one of the kids challenges Goldbergs ability to move between
his privileged world and theirs saying, You can go home and
change the channel, but we cant. It is because of the
trust built by Goldberg with his subjects that he is able to fluidly
move between such dissonant worlds. Goldberg creates a visual
as well as a physical disruption of space so that the viewer is
at once brought into the experiential level of his subjects. Objects
(a jacket, a broken bat, and guns) act as chapter dividers and
work well in the context of his books, however, in the actual
museum installation environment, they appear to be out of place
due to their scale, their physicality and their everydayness as
Raised by Wolves, Goldberg states he feels that at the
core of the piece is a love story between Echo (Beth) and Tweaky
Dave and that the book should be read as a film. They form a partnership
that carries the story. In the exhibition though, the story of
Echo and Tweaky Dave does not read in a cinematic way because
of the installation environment. However, the book, because of
its size and sequencing of pictures and objects, reads in a more
cinematic flow. While unlike the movies this is a love story
where they do not ride off into the sunset rather; we are
confronted with the reality of their emotional and psychological
dissonance. Perhaps this is what Goldberg wants us to see about
ourselves? Maybe even when we change the channel we cannot get
away from the uncomfortable truth?