A century after photographer Jacob Riis published How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York, a harrowing portrait of urban poverty, Jim Goldberg took to the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco where he met a cadre of homeless children fending for themselves. From 1985–1995, Goldberg bore witness to chaotic reality of street life to create Raised by Wolves, a collection of photographs, snippets of conversation, handwritten notes, drawings, snapshots, and the detritus of daily life, which the Washington Post called, “A heartbreaking novel with pictures.”
The protagonists, Tweaky Dave and Echo, were charismatic but troubled youth, whose personalities, histories, and dreams leap from the page and grab you by the throat. With Raised by Wolves, Goldberg found a way inside a band of outsiders whose existence has been alternately vilified, marginalized, or erased, and restored to them a humanity that had been stripped by addiction, violence, and abuse.
The book transformed the role that photography could play as it collapsed the space between documentary and narrative fiction, revealing the endless interplay between myth, history, and identity. The people were real, their circumstances harrowing, but their stories contained half-truths and falsehoods constructed to reflect what they want or need to believe. Tweeky Dave described his devout Christian parents as a junkie slut and a biker from Hell; while untrue the slanderous depictions seemed befitting for a couple who later turned their back on their dying son.
A Deep Dive into a the Past
With Raised by Wolves out of print since its initial release, Goldberg published a bootleg edition in 2016, both editions now selling for hundreds of dollars, a testament to the impact and influence of his work. This year, Goldberg returned to his archive to create Fingerprint (Stanley/Barker Books), a limited edition box set for 45 facsimile Polaroids that served as drafts for photographs later created for Raised by Wolves.
Here the photograph becomes a space for collaboration that lets them tell their stories on their terms. “Going to Texas to save my life. Change my ways. To [sic] bad I have to leave S.F. to do it,” a teenage girl writes in red, her words framing a portrait of her standing in front of a brick wall, knowingly gazing with a half smile on her face. Then she adds in blue ink, “You all just wish you looked this good.”
Goldberg sees Raised by Wolves as the centerpiece of a trilogy, which began with his seminal monograph Rich and Poor, selections from which were exhibited alongside the work of Robert Adams and Joel Sternfeld in Three Americans at the Museum of Modern Art in 1984, and ended with Candy (Yale University Art Gallery, 2017).
“All three books are about where I grew up, and how I grew up. The books represent a lot of the same themes about race, class, age, love, lust, betrayal—they’re tied together,” Goldberg told in an article published by Magnum Photos. “I wanted to look at those people who were outsiders, like I felt I was.”
By Miss Rosen
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, and websites including Time, Vogue, Artsy, Aperture, Dazed, and Vice, among others.
Jim Goldberg, Fingerprints
Published by Stanley / Barker Books
Book available here.