This essay will investigate the appropriation of text to
help communicate a message and if it is necessary, or the photographers’
intent, to influence readers to feel a certain way. Research will be undertaken
to decide whether the loss of text gives viewers more leverage to have their
own interpretation. Would you read something differently if you were not
offered background knowledge which could potentially make you sympathise or
become more sensitive to a situation?

 

Jim Goldberg’s project “‘Raised by Wolves’ was produced over
a period of ten years, from 1985 to 1995″1 it
explores aspects of a world that some choose, or are forced, to devote their
lives to. It’s a very sensitive region which many of us refuse to believe
exists and through ‘photographs, text, and other illustrative elements (home
movie stills, snapshots, drawings, diary entries and images of discarded
belongings)’2
Goldberg explicitly exposes us to taboo topics concerning rape, drugs and toxic
addictions on the streets in San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are two main
characters whose lives we predominantly follow, Echo/Beth and Tweeky Dave,
their stories both begin and conclude the photobook which is a compassionate way
to honor Dave’s passing and Echo’s progression as she returns to life as a
normal suburban teenager. ‘Every year in the United States, 1.5 million kids
run away from home. Many of them end up on city streets’3 –
Goldberg makes sure to mention all of the interactions he makes whilst trying
to understand the desperation behind the children’s attempts to escape, ultimately
giving these ‘outcasts’ both purpose and recognition.

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Another photographer that works in a similar way contextually to
Goldberg is Roger Mayne, his most influential pieces of work included
photographing post-war poverty. Mayne ‘captured the squalor
and spectacle of Southam Street and the series of photographs between 1956 and
1961 are one of the most important photographic surveys of city life in Fifties
and Sixties Britain.’4 This
well renowned street involved Mayne working ‘on the move, equipped with a
lightweight Zeiss Super Ikonta camera, immersing himself in the hustle and
bustle of the block: a hive of activity that was as joyous as it was desperate.’5
This idea of the area or community being ‘as joyous as it was desperate’ is a
crucial comparison to make with Goldberg’s project, which is a much more somber
series reflecting a true vision of self-harm caused by poverty. These kids find
security and comfort in the fact that everyone on the street made the decision
to run away, ultimately finding harmony in a reckless way of living but one which
presents them with a new idea of normality. Mayne’s images on the other-hand
reveal a group which have been forced into change because of the catastrophe of
war, they find light in trying to continue with day-to-day life – the images
are of children and ‘members
of the first generation to be identified as “teenagers”‘ appear to look as though they are being sheltered from the
truth by continuing to play in the streets, gossiping and going about their
business doing ‘ordinary’ activities.

 

Both series of images share one similarity,
although we are made aware that both situations are documentations of distress,
whilst looking back through the photographs an observation that can be made is
that there is only one image in each set that show physical signs of discomfort
through displaying raw emotion presented in the form of either screams/tears.

 

In figure one we see
Mayne’s distinctive style of working; a contrasty, harsh black and white print.

It is important to recognise that although Raised by Wolves challenges a broader
amount of problems within humanity, it actually lacks emotion photographically;
we see physical attributes of pain such as blood and bruises, but it is the
text that builds the narrative representing the ‘adolescent subjects’6
pain. Figure two is a beautiful shot which highlights Echo as she is in labor
being comforted by her mother who she has just been reunited with after four
years, it is an image of discomposure as we witness the first real sign of
cries. Nevertheless, it records the life changing moment where Echo is finally
granted with genuine responsibility of not only having to look after herself
anymore, she is granted the happiness which she has always desired. Goldberg’s
commentary in the book however (in between interviews), only continues to accentuate
that this lifestyle has left Echo with issues that she cannot simply erase, ‘In
the delivery room Twack Jack and Echo are arguing out of control. He is yelling
at her in between painful contractions.’7

 

The late 1980’s leading into the early 1990’s was a decade
that is best known for its sex, drugs and rock and roll culture. ‘…Heavy Metal
and Rock and Roll, what was selling records on a multi-million-dollar scale
were the albums and artists that glamorized the drug culture.’8

 

After being made aware of Beth’s story which opens the book, we get a glimpse into film stills
reflecting her innocence as a child presented alongside the information, in the
form of an interview, that her step-dad had snatched this purity and had been
molesting her. The escapees dreaded moment of disappearance is described to us through
the words of her mother;

 

“One night she called me in to watch a TV talk show. It was
that guy with the big mouth. She said she hated him. Got up the next morning
and she was gone. Just like that. To California.

Jim: What was the
show about?

R. Sylvia: I don’t
know, rock stars I guess.”9

 

This quote only emphasizes
the point that these kids craved and aspired to live what appeared to be an
easy going, fulfilled life style. When in reality it was a false representation
which they all seemed to become addicted to chasing, just a non-existent dream world
which left them in a downward spiral, contemplating when they would get their
next hit. ‘…most American youths themselves glamorized the illusory lifestyle
of money, guns, cars, rims, clubs, sex and violence’10 –
Goldberg’s outsider perspective gives us an insight to the truth of this, a suitable
example being the image “Sleeping Marcos”
taken in San Francisco in 1989. The image aesthetically inflicts a bigger picture
highlighting gun violence, Marcos sleeps very closely to the gun using it in a
protective manor, as he lays in the fetal position Goldberg compositionally
makes the combination of the figure and sofa outline the shape of a gun through
use of line and shape. Marcos appears to lie in place as the trigger to his own
life. This photograph makes a gun, which has negative anecdotes, appear harmless
and very placid as it remains still and unused. Marcos is a black American, who
dresses in drag, craves this lust for relationships and who Goldberg clearly seems
to have an intimate relationship with. Although trust is not a physical
attribute, its existence is evident because of the close proximity between both
the photographer and subject.

 

The American Dream is another universal, but somewhat falsely
advertised idea, that many obsess over and ultimately long for. In the book one
of the kids describes the people that stand in place as representatives for the
streets community as ‘the black sheep of the American family’. They are
reminders that the pursuit of happiness is not actually available to each individual,
no matter what background or social class they are products of. Most of the
youth find life on the streets safer than this idyllist interpretation of the conventional
American household and lifestyle.

 

In 1968 Bill Owens began working locally in Livermore,
California. He narrowed his focus to the communities in the suburbs,
documenting families that are content with their materialistic life choices. We
are presented with the people that support the stereotype of the American Dream,
they are solid examples of everything that visually, the people Goldberg works
with are running from. Owen’s is a photographer that also uses text and image
montage, all the words in the book are from the families but are typed rather
than handwritten like Goldberg’s – creating a flushed, uniform series. Does the
way that the two photographers present the text in their books help reinstate the
culture they are documenting? Goldberg’s style is a reflection of how actively
involved the people were allowed to be by using handwritten notes from each of
them, massively echoing their voice throughout the work. We are consistently
reminded that these are real people and real situations, not a piece of fiction.
Owens on the other hand thrives around the unity of this hunger for the portrayal
of perfection, the comments are typed text summarizing how the people feel about
themselves, this identical style could be considered too lack individualism
which in turn creates this distance between the prints and those viewing them.

Although this looks like a scene of suffering, because of
the age you are able distinguish that it is probably just a young child that
has hurt herself playing, supported by the fact none of the other children
appear to be alarmed. However, if this was presented with text to inform us
otherwise our initial response could quickly be influenced in to believing
another, more serious, scenario.

 

 

1 Goldberg,
J. Raised by Wolves, Second Scalo
Edition, Berlin: Scalo Zurich, 1997.

2 Jim
Goldberg’s official page Online http://jimgoldberg.com

3
Levi Strauss, D. and C. Stoll, D (ed) Between
the Eyes, Essays on Photography and Politics, Singapore: Tien Wah Press,
2003. Page 67.

4 ‘Roger Mayne – obituary’ Online http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10901219/Roger-Mayne-obituary.html 15 June
2014

 

5 ‘Roger Mayne – obituary’ Online http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10901219/Roger-Mayne-obituary.html 15 June
2014

6
‘Book – Raised by Wolves’ Online https://pro.magnumphotos.com/Package/2K7O3RB0IRNS#/SearchResult&ALID=2K7O3RB0IRNS&VBID=2K1HZS6LX5QBR&PN=3&POPUPIID=2K7O3R3SDCRV&POPUPPN=1

7 Goldberg,
J. Raised by Wolves, Second Scalo
Edition, Berlin: Scalo Zurich, 1997. Page 286.

8 Etter,
C. A Study of Qualitative Non-Pluralism,
printed in the United States of America: iUniverse, 2006. Page 230.

9 Goldberg,
J. Raised by Wolves, Second Scalo
Edition, Berlin: Scalo Zurich, 1997. Page 17.

10 Etter,
C. A Study of Qualitative Non-Pluralism,
printed in the United States of America: iUniverse, 2006. Page 230.