Books | Jim Goldberg: Rich And Poor
First published in 1985, Jim Goldberg’s Rich and Poor was a seminal work of photography book publishing. Within its pages was a diary of America, written by its own hand. Goldberg, who photographed the wealthy and destitute of San Francisco from 1977–1985, had each person caption the photograph, telling us something about who they are, and how they see themselves. Then they signed their words.
The work was originally shown in 1984 alongside Robert Adams and Joel Sternfeld in the Three Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The book, which has been out of print for thirty years, has been completely redesigned and expanded by the artist for a new edition, released by Steidl. Available for the first time in hardcover, Rich and Poor is exquisitely printed and produced with a surplus of vintage materials and contemporary photographs that have never been published or exhibited. Add to this, an accordion-fold color booklet rests within a pocket placed inside the back cover of the book. The booklet opens to reveal a meticulously sequenced cityscape, one side the poor and the other the rich, giving a profound sense of the phrase, “How the other half lives.”
As Goldberg writes in the afterword of the book, “While preparing for this revised edition I spent time reflecting on my boyhood in New Haven, and why I felt compelled to make Rich and Poor in the fist place. I have a more nuanced view now about what photographs can and cannot do to address economic disparities, but I remain fascinated by my original impulse to undertake the project, and by the assumptions about American exceptionalism, picked up as a boy in New England, which suffuse he work. We were taught back then that we were on a special path, and I think my outrage about the desperation of the poor—and the dissatisfaction of the rich—stemmed in part from my belief that they represented a derogation from that path, a veering off course that had to be rooted out and documented. And I believed, I really believed, that once people saw what was happening, then we, as a society, would fix it.”
The beauty of being a true believer is the amount of energy, sincerity, and faith put into the work, and that work, in and of itself, is the path to salvation. It is this belief that gives great art the ability to touch the soul, to reach deep inside to the very core, to allow us to come face to face in a space that is at once safe and dangerous. For when we look at Goldberg’s images – his subjects’ words, their handwriting, their eyes, their clothes, their pose – we begin to see beyond the surface of things, into the heart of the matter, where truth and integrity live, and it is here that we begin to understand the chasm between reality and appearances.
All images ©Rich and Poor by Jim Goldberg, published by Steidl.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in-and-out-of-print loves.