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.