USA. San Francisco, California. 1977. “My life is personal, but I will tell you one thing I’m too fat.”
USA. San Francisco. 1981. Untitled. Goldstines. “My wife is acceptable. Our relationship is satisfactory.” Edgar G “Edgar looks splendid here. His power and strength of character come through. He is a very private person who is not demonstrative of his affection; that has never made me unhappy. I accept him as he is. We are totally devoted to each other. Dear Jim: May you be as lucky in marriage!” Regina Goldstine
USA. San Francisco. 1977. “I love the picture. I am a homosexual. May be if I send one of the pictures you gave me, Jim, to my nephew he will understand how hard his uncle is struggling.”
From 1977 through 1985, Photographer Jim Goldberg took documentary-style pictures of transients in the Mission District and well-off San Franciscans in their homes and had the subjects write on their portraits. The combination of text and image is still incredibly intimate, even in this age of Instagram and Facebook. The dichotomy between the affluent and the destitute is obvious, yet the universality of the emotions the writers share is striking: pain, loneliness, disappointment, joy, security, contentment.
“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.”
The combination of image and text is what makes this series so arresting and raw, but at the time of its initial publication in 1985 it was a radical decision, derided in a New York Times review as “a sad lack of trust on Mr. Goldberg’s part in both the power of his photographs to speak for themselves and in his viewers to understand them without comment.” Contemporary artists such as Brandon Stanton from Humans of New York, have taken this format and breathed new life into it through its immediate dissemination on the Internet.
Out of print since 1985, Jim Goldberg’s Rich and Poor has been completely re-designed and expanded by the artist for Steidl. Available for the first time in hardcover, Rich and Poor builds upon the classic combination of photographs and handwriting and adds a surplus of vintage material and contemporary photographs that have never been published or exhibited. (Source)
What comes across in these images is the shocking discrepancy of material goods and environments. The writings expose an expanded truth, though. There is obvious inequality in education and writing ability, leading to the impression that the poor suffer more than the rich. And that may be true in some ways — lack of opportunities, healthcare, and hope are all devastating. Pain is pain, though, and suffering is universal, as is love and gratitude. These portraits—touching, tender, hopeless, and sad—speak to our commonalities, as relevant in 2014 as in 1985.
USA. San Francisco. 1982. “It feels so good to be in my private world. The world out there is scary. There are so many problems. I guess my world is a bit isolated – but in my world there are problems too. Poorer peoples lives are less complicated. They do not have to worry about running such a big house, the boot needing constant repairs or the servants wearing spotless white uniforms. Our lives are paralleled however when it comes to it. The pursuance of health, happiness and family fulfillment. From wherever one stands ones problems always seem important.”
USA. San Francisco. 1983. “We look like ordinary people! We have a terrible life.”
USA. San Francisco. 1984. “To my discomfort, I am often considered a grand dame. I know how to behave in most cirumstances whether with inferiors or superiors, without attracting attention. I was properly brought up. To the manor and manners born.”
USA. San Francisco. 1982. “Manny loves me – but I am too strong to love him.”…”This photo makes me want to cry.”
USA. San Francisco, California. 1982. “I am surrounded by affluence. Sometimes it embaresses me as I don’t like to feel privileged – but we do our share through philanthropic deeds. I miss adventure. I would like to travel, but my lifes too structured. This picture makes me feel restless.”
USA. San Francisco. 1984. “It’s kind of stinky living in this hotel. I don’t have nothing only $10. I keep waiting for someone to come in my door and give me money but nobody ever will.”
USA. San Francisco, California. 1982. “I keep thinking where we went wrong. We have no one to talk to now, however, I will not allow this loneliness to destroy me – I STILL HAVE MY DREAMS. I would like an elegant home, a loving husband and the wealth I am used to.”
USA. San Francisco. 1979. “I love David. But he is to fragile for a rough father like me.”
USA. San Francisco. 1981. “I look content and tasteful. My kitchen is orderly. I like to prepare food as attractive as possible.”
USA. San Francisco. 1979. “We are always very affectionate together.”…”My mom looks pretty. I look scared.”