This essay will investigate the appropriation of text tohelp communicate a message and if it is necessary, or the photographers’intent, to influence readers to feel a certain way. Research will be undertakento decide whether the loss of text gives viewers more leverage to have theirown interpretation.
Would you read something differently if you were notoffered background knowledge which could potentially make you sympathise orbecome more sensitive to a situation? Jim Goldberg’s project “‘Raised by Wolves’ was produced overa period of ten years, from 1985 to 1995″1 itexplores aspects of a world that some choose, or are forced, to devote theirlives to. It’s a very sensitive region which many of us refuse to believeexists and through ‘photographs, text, and other illustrative elements (homemovie stills, snapshots, drawings, diary entries and images of discardedbelongings)’2Goldberg explicitly exposes us to taboo topics concerning rape, drugs and toxicaddictions on the streets in San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are two maincharacters whose lives we predominantly follow, Echo/Beth and Tweeky Dave,their stories both begin and conclude the photobook which is a compassionate wayto honor Dave’s passing and Echo’s progression as she returns to life as anormal suburban teenager. ‘Every year in the United States, 1.5 million kidsrun away from home.
Many of them end up on city streets’3 –Goldberg makes sure to mention all of the interactions he makes whilst tryingto understand the desperation behind the children’s attempts to escape, ultimatelygiving these ‘outcasts’ both purpose and recognition. Another photographer that works in a similar way contextually toGoldberg is Roger Mayne, his most influential pieces of work includedphotographing post-war poverty. Mayne ‘captured the squalorand spectacle of Southam Street and the series of photographs between 1956 and1961 are one of the most important photographic surveys of city life in Fiftiesand Sixties Britain.’4 Thiswell renowned street involved Mayne working ‘on the move, equipped with alightweight Zeiss Super Ikonta camera, immersing himself in the hustle andbustle of the block: a hive of activity that was as joyous as it was desperate.
‘5This idea of the area or community being ‘as joyous as it was desperate’ is acrucial comparison to make with Goldberg’s project, which is a much more somberseries reflecting a true vision of self-harm caused by poverty. These kids findsecurity and comfort in the fact that everyone on the street made the decisionto run away, ultimately finding harmony in a reckless way of living but one whichpresents them with a new idea of normality. Mayne’s images on the other-handreveal a group which have been forced into change because of the catastrophe ofwar, they find light in trying to continue with day-to-day life – the imagesare of children and ‘membersof the first generation to be identified as “teenagers”‘ appear to look as though they are being sheltered from thetruth by continuing to play in the streets, gossiping and going about theirbusiness 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 isthat there is only one image in each set that show physical signs of discomfortthrough displaying raw emotion presented in the form of either screams/tears. In figure one we seeMayne’s distinctive style of working; a contrasty, harsh black and white print.
It is important to recognise that although Raised by Wolves challenges a broaderamount of problems within humanity, it actually lacks emotion photographically;we see physical attributes of pain such as blood and bruises, but it is thetext that builds the narrative representing the ‘adolescent subjects’6pain. Figure two is a beautiful shot which highlights Echo as she is in laborbeing comforted by her mother who she has just been reunited with after fouryears, it is an image of discomposure as we witness the first real sign ofcries. Nevertheless, it records the life changing moment where Echo is finallygranted with genuine responsibility of not only having to look after herselfanymore, she is granted the happiness which she has always desired. Goldberg’scommentary in the book however (in between interviews), only continues to accentuatethat this lifestyle has left Echo with issues that she cannot simply erase, ‘Inthe delivery room Twack Jack and Echo are arguing out of control. He is yellingat her in between painful contractions.
‘7 The late 1980’s leading into the early 1990’s was a decadethat is best known for its sex, drugs and rock and roll culture. ‘…Heavy Metaland Rock and Roll, what was selling records on a multi-million-dollar scalewere 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 stillsreflecting her innocence as a child presented alongside the information, in theform of an interview, that her step-dad had snatched this purity and had beenmolesting her.
The escapees dreaded moment of disappearance is described to us throughthe words of her mother; “One night she called me in to watch a TV talk show. It wasthat guy with the big mouth. She said she hated him. Got up the next morningand she was gone. Just like that. To California.
Jim: What was theshow about?R. Sylvia: I don’tknow, rock stars I guess.”9 This quote only emphasizesthe point that these kids craved and aspired to live what appeared to be aneasy going, fulfilled life style. When in reality it was a false representationwhich they all seemed to become addicted to chasing, just a non-existent dream worldwhich left them in a downward spiral, contemplating when they would get theirnext hit.
‘…most American youths themselves glamorized the illusory lifestyleof money, guns, cars, rims, clubs, sex and violence’10 –Goldberg’s outsider perspective gives us an insight to the truth of this, a suitableexample being the image “Sleeping Marcos”taken in San Francisco in 1989. The image aesthetically inflicts a bigger picturehighlighting gun violence, Marcos sleeps very closely to the gun using it in aprotective manor, as he lays in the fetal position Goldberg compositionallymakes the combination of the figure and sofa outline the shape of a gun throughuse of line and shape. Marcos appears to lie in place as the trigger to his ownlife. This photograph makes a gun, which has negative anecdotes, appear harmlessand very placid as it remains still and unused. Marcos is a black American, whodresses in drag, craves this lust for relationships and who Goldberg clearly seemsto have an intimate relationship with. Although trust is not a physicalattribute, its existence is evident because of the close proximity between boththe photographer and subject.
The American Dream is another universal, but somewhat falselyadvertised idea, that many obsess over and ultimately long for. In the book oneof the kids describes the people that stand in place as representatives for thestreets community as ‘the black sheep of the American family’. They arereminders 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 theyouth find life on the streets safer than this idyllist interpretation of the conventionalAmerican 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.
Weare presented with the people that support the stereotype of the American Dream,they are solid examples of everything that visually, the people Goldberg workswith are running from. Owen’s is a photographer that also uses text and imagemontage, all the words in the book are from the families but are typed ratherthan handwritten like Goldberg’s – creating a flushed, uniform series. Does theway that the two photographers present the text in their books help reinstate theculture they are documenting? Goldberg’s style is a reflection of how activelyinvolved the people were allowed to be by using handwritten notes from each ofthem, massively echoing their voice throughout the work.
We are consistentlyreminded 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 portrayalof perfection, the comments are typed text summarizing how the people feel aboutthemselves, this identical style could be considered too lack individualismwhich in turn creates this distance between the prints and those viewing them.Although this looks like a scene of suffering, because ofthe age you are able distinguish that it is probably just a young child thathas hurt herself playing, supported by the fact none of the other childrenappear to be alarmed. However, if this was presented with text to inform usotherwise our initial response could quickly be influenced in to believinganother, more serious, scenario.
1 Goldberg,J. Raised by Wolves, Second ScaloEdition, Berlin: Scalo Zurich, 1997.2 JimGoldberg’s official page Online http://jimgoldberg.com3Levi Strauss, D. and C. Stoll, D (ed) Betweenthe Eyes, Essays on Photography and Politics, Singapore: Tien Wah Press,2003. Page 67.4 ‘Roger Mayne – obituary’ Online http://www.
html 15 June2014 5 ‘Roger Mayne – obituary’ Online http://www.telegraph.co.
uk/news/obituaries/10901219/Roger-Mayne-obituary.html 15 June20146’Book – Raised by Wolves’ Online https://pro.magnumphotos.com/Package/2K7O3RB0IRNS#/SearchResult&ALID=2K7O3RB0IRNS&VBID=2K1HZS6LX5QBR&PN=3&POPUPIID=2K7O3R3SDCRV&POPUPPN=17 Goldberg,J. Raised by Wolves, Second ScaloEdition, 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 ScaloEdition, 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.