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Jim Goldberg: Coming and Going

Collage-artist's visual autobiography makes beautiful sense of life's cruelty

Published by Mack Books 360 pages, €85, £75, $85

Date:

25th September 2023

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Coming and Going is life as texture. It is deeply personal and sometimes gut-punching. Goldberg’s conceptual image-making is not just the story of a life it is the story about how we make stories. This American artist unpicks the “auto” in autobiography that assumes we are not already a collection of many voices and people. Multiple entry points for the reader on each spread highlights how words and writing in conventional biographies create the illusion that life runs in an uncomplicated, simple, linear fashion. This book asserts that, while life as a whole may not make sense, it makes cruel sense, joyful sense. And creativity is the aspiration to celebrate that sense-making.

Goldberg’s use of collage creates space for so many different voices in the telling of events: his father during a long illness and treatment of cancer; of falling in love with his wife and the heartbreak of divorce; the birth of his daughter and many other significant life moments; the lives of the teenage runaways he documented in a photo-project.

Jim Goldberg image of a close up of a table with food and drinks on it

As much as his life is the subject matter, the spreads visualize how a life belongs to others too. Goldberg’s creative skill is making time itself the subject matter. His images are dense with time. Collages of family photos taken at different moments and arranged to communicate the complexity of relationships and the emotions they gather over time.

It’s the writing on the photos too, sometimes by him, often by others, that complicates the idea that there is only one take on a life. Writing on photos by those portrayed in the image was a technique he worked with from very early on, in a body of work that encompasses long term documentary projects such as: Rich and Poor (1977-1985) in San Francisco and Raised by Wolves (1985-1995), a work which documented the chaotic lives of California street kids and was described by The Washington Post as “A heartbreaking novel with pictures”.

The writing on photos is a way of de-centring his eye, giving voice to others. It’s partly this ethical-creative generosity in his practice which drew recognition in the form of three National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships in Photography, the Henri Cartier-Bresson Award, and the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize among many others. In the context of this autobiographical work the writing functions as annotation by others, an act of self-assertion and self-citation. The writing also brings those codings of authenticity and voice which made Goldberg attractive to clients such as Levi’s and Vans.

Jim Goldberg's mother sunbathing, with his own text written over the top.

John O’Reilly, writer and lecturer, University of the Arts London.

All images by Jim Goldberg, from Coming and Going (MACK, 2023). Courtesy of the artist and MACK.

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Coming and Going is life as texture. It is deeply personal and sometimes gut-punching. Goldberg’s conceptual image-making is not just the story of a life it is the story about how we make stories. This American artist unpicks the “auto” in autobiography that assumes we are not already a collection of many voices and people. Multiple entry points for the reader on each spread highlights how words and writing in conventional biographies create the illusion that life runs in an uncomplicated, simple, linear fashion. This book asserts that, while life as a whole may not make sense, it makes cruel sense, joyful sense. And creativity is the aspiration to celebrate that sense-making.

Goldberg’s use of collage creates space for so many different voices in the telling of events: his father during a long illness and treatment of cancer; of falling in love with his wife and the heartbreak of divorce; the birth of his daughter and many other significant life moments; the lives of the teenage runaways he documented in a photo-project.

As much as his life is the subject matter, the spreads visualize how a life belongs to others too. Goldberg’s creative skill is making time itself the subject matter. His images are dense with time. Collages of family photos taken at different moments and arranged to communicate the complexity of relationships and the emotions they gather over time.

It’s the writing on the photos too, sometimes by him, often by others, that complicates the idea that there is only one take on a life. Writing on photos by those portrayed in the image was a technique he worked with from very early on, in a body of work that encompasses long term documentary projects such as: Rich and Poor (1977-1985) in San Francisco and Raised by Wolves (1985-1995), a work which documented the chaotic lives of California street kids and was described by The Washington Post as “A heartbreaking novel with pictures”.

The writing on photos is a way of de-centring his eye, giving voice to others. It’s partly this ethical-creative generosity in his practice which drew recognition in the form of three National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships in Photography, the Henri Cartier-Bresson Award, and the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize among many others. In the context of this autobiographical work the writing functions as annotation by others, an act of self-assertion and self-citation. The writing also brings those codings of authenticity and voice which made Goldberg attractive to clients such as Levi’s and Vans.

John O'Reilly, writer and lecturer, University of the Arts London.

All images by Jim Goldberg, from Coming and Going (MACK, 2023). Courtesy of the artist and MACK.

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