Although a photographer’s process is integral to his/her work, it is often a carefully guarded secret. Most photographers tend to keep the development of their work to themselves, sometimes choosing to seek counsel only from a small circle of trusted friends.
It comes as a surprise, then, to find Magnum photographer Jim Goldberg’s reworked sketches, videos and maquettes of his groundbreaking books openly shared online.
For Goldberg—a photographer whose approach has always been eclectic, evolving, and utilizing other mediums, including text—the very act of sharing these works in progress is an important and formative part of the final product.
Goldberg talked to LightBox about the process of revisiting, sharing and republishing two of his groundbreaking works. Rich and Poor (1977-85) juxtaposes two economic classes through intimate environmental portraits and personal statements written on the prints by the subjects, while Raised by Wolves (1985-95) documents the lives of homeless runaways in San Francisco and Los Angeles through photographs, text, drawings and interviews.
Being a teacher for so long, I’ve realized that so much of what you teach students is about learning to respect the importance of process. Watching students grow is interesting—and them observing my process helps them see that it’s not that mysterious of a thing to do. In order to figure this artmaking stuff out, it’s trial and error and experimentation, and takes some time and hard thinking. Putting work out in many forms and stages is an extension of how I see things. I feel the art process is best served when it invites comments and constructive criticism from people. It’s a strategic gesture, too, because the feedback I receive helps me move forward with my ideas, which is what process is about—to craft and evolve something.
Rich and Poor
I was invited by Steidl to republish Rich and Poor. Up to this point my archive was mostly analog. Revisiting Rich and Poor meant that it was time to start digitizing my older work. I started by going through all of my contact sheets and re-editing. My studio ended up scanning a lot of images that were never printed in the original book, which in turn gave me a way to experience my old work with a beginners mind. This got me excited about seeing things I had passed over years before during my original edit. When I originally made the work, I was getting so much positive feedback about how I was using images with text that the stand-alone images fell by the wayside. Or perhaps back then I didn’t have the courage to include images that functioned simply as straight photographs.
Revisiting the archive excited me on many levels. The freshness of my youth particularly resonated with me, but it also gave me thirty years of distance to look back at these images. Aside from the overall nostalgic patina, I feel like I was looking at these images with a critical distance for the first time. I’m now able to separate my own impulses with the overarching history/context of what was happening in the 70’s and 80’s.
I also wanted to conceptually tie the past in with the present and so decided to revisit a few of the original subjects and map where they are today. I plan to include this in the new Rich and Poor edition via a small insert of contemporary imagery.
Photographer/Artist Jim Goldberg is a member of Magnum Photos and Professor of Art at the California College of Arts and Crafts. He Lives in San Francisco.
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