JIM GOLDBERG: “Raised By Wolves as a Non-Fictional Multi-Media Narrative”

Destiny’s Shiny Bracelet, 1989

Raised By Wolves as a Non-Fictional Multi-Media Narrative

By Sarah Wichlacz

“It’s not like you can go home and watch TV.”

(Unattributed handwritten quote from “Raised by Wolves” p.46)

Jim Goldberg’s Raised by Wolves is purely narrative. It is a story, as true as any story can hope to be; it is a story told through many mediums; it is the story of the streets. Jim Goldberg, a photographer by trade, spent ten years on the streets of San Francisco and LA “documenting” the citys’ homeless teens. Raised by Wolves is the story of Goldberg’s experience with these teens. This story takes on many forms: a traveling art gallery exhibit, a book, a website, and an experience. All of these radically different modes of narrative function to tell the same story. Raised by Wolves is the fabula at the core of these different manifestations, altered by different mediums and orders. But multiple venues are just the tip of the multimedia iceberg. Raised by Wolves is part photojournalism, part novel, part movie, part comic, and part museum display. Shifts in mediums occur within the individual pieces themselves. In the book, the fabula and the story (the order) remain the same while the text (the medium) changes repeatedly. Raised by Wolves adopts some conventions from all of these mediums but it transcends them as well. Raised by Wolves is nothing like anything you’ve seen before. While the traveling exhibit is seen in fine arts venues, the website caters to social activism through testimonial. For the sake of clarity and brevity, I will only be discussing the book version of Raised by Wolves, but it is important to keep in mind that the exhibit and website, while separate, are still part of the greater piece.

The history of storytelling is as old as humankind, maybe even older. Throughout this history voice, body, images, text, objects themselves, and today even film, video, and computers have all been utilized to create and tell stories. A number of mediums have been created by utilizing more than one of these storytelling techniques at once. Comics usually combine image and text; film, moving photographs, combines sound and image. Raised by Wolves has it’s own unique blend of image (photos and video stills) and text (transcripts of conversations and handwritten notes and letters). Out of Raised by Wolves’ 315 pages 31 of them are fully textual, usually typed transcripts of conversations between Goldberg and the homeless teens. But bulk of the book is photographic in nature; even handwritten notes become photographs within the book. The style of Goldberg’s photographs and the reportage nature of Raised by Wolves refers to photojournalism.

 


Echo’s Class Picture, 1992

Photojournalism itself grows out of journalism, and the main goals are to inform/teach the audience and to uphold the truth. The first real photojournalistic narrative was The Execution of the Lincoln Conspirators by Alexander Gardener, photographed in 1865. It includes traditional portraits of the conspirators along with seven sequential images depicting the hangings. Earlier, in 1855 the Crimean War was the first war to be documented photographically, but slow film speeds made it impossible to record action, only the aftermath. These images were often reproduced as lithographs and published in European journals and newspapers. But these early news photos lack the narrative qualities that later became synonymous with photojournalism. The same detached nature prevents the famous Civil War photographs by Mathew Brady from being true photojournalism. These types of photos were published in journals such as Harper’s as illustrations for articles on the war, but the article and the photo rarely combined to make a true narrative. In the depression era United States a social documentation style was emerging. Jim Goldberg’s Raised by Wolves comes directly form this photographic heritage. Documentary refers to a style apart from news and art photography; it implies that the photographer had a goal in mind, usually to expose social injustice and to somehow bring about a change. But another more important convention is the presentation of photos in a group rather than one at a time. Multiple images lead to a decidedly more narrative approach to photography.

The social documentation style (combined with European war reportage style) evolved into what is known as Life magazine style. The Life style is defined by the combination of text and image; while the two mediums remain spatially separate, they combine to tell the same story. Here the fablula is told through two separate texts (mediums) creating a unique gestalt telling. Mary Ellen Mark best represents the contemporary manifestation of this style. Her subject matter is also closely related to Goldberg’s, which provides points of comparison and contrast in looking at his work. In 1983 Mary Ellen Mark, working for Life magazine, went to Seattle Washington with writer/reporter Cheryl McCall to document the city’s street children. The resulting piece was a powerful story with even more powerful characters, so powerful in fact that Mark’s husband, Martin Bell, was moved enough to make a documentary film. So today Streetwise exists as a Life magazine article with photos, a black and white documentary film, and a book with Mark’s photos and quotes from the street children in the film. This type of multimedia impulse is reflected in Raised by Wolves, but Goldberg alone is responsible for the whole that is Raised by Wolves, whereas there is a separation of the writer, photographer, and filmmaker in Streetwise. Streetwise also upholds many of the conventions of documentary photography that are often disregarded in Raised by Wolves.

 

Hollywood and Highland, 1988
Kato, Hollywood Boulevard, 1990

The conventions of documentary photography demand that the photos be printed full frame with black boarders. Full frame images allude to truth, in that nothing has been cropped from the photographic frame. This idea ignores the fact that many (usually hundreds) of images are “cropped” out during the editing process. Another important convention is the lack of the photographer within the narrative. Narrative photographers strive not to alter, change, or influence their subjects at all. This is no easy task, as most people don’t act normally when they have a stranger with a camera following them around. In documentary photography truth is the most important ideal. The job of the photographer is to represent objective truth as best as they can. This is an impossible and outdated objective that Jim Goldberg works hard to successfully usurp.

Goldberg uses text and imagery to relate the experiences of his subjects directly to his audience. He originally shot only straight black and white photographs, but later began incorporating text. In his exhibit/book Rich and Poor (1979) Goldberg juxtaposes photographs of very rich people and very poor people, but he allows the people to speak for themselves by letting them write their feelings about the image on the photograph itself. Goldberg goes further in Raised by Wolves by recording and transcripting his subjects’ real voice, not their more contrived written voices. In many other ways Raised by Wolves evolves from Goldberg’s earlier works. In their class conscious and gritty street photography style, as well as narrative elements Goldberg’s earlier work prepared him for his master work, Raised by Wolves, Goldberg’s ten years with San Francisco’s street children has created a finely tuned story of epic proportions, as grand in scope as a Russian novel with over 170 photographs and over 100 characters in the “cast” (Raised by Wolves, p5).

Jim Goldberg, Raised by Wolves, 1995. Last photo of Tweeky Dave

The immense task of recording and then assembling the incredible volume of media that went into Raised by Wolves is all the more impressive because of how finely tuned the piece is. While Raised by Wolves is grand in scope, it finds focus in the intertwining stories of Tweeky Dave and Echo, two very different homeless teens. Tweeky Dave is a mysterious, skinny, sickly, kid that manages to be friendly and strong despite the years he’s spent on the street. In contrast, Echo (Beth) is a new comer, a runaway struggling to survive her new environment. Jim, Goldberg himself, is a character cum narrator. He is a faceless voice who muses about how to start his book, this book, with Tweeky Dave and Echo (28). Jim who takes the ailing Tweeky Dave and Echo to the hospital pediatric clinic (199). Jim Goldberg is the documenter and the documented, a character and an actor, the narrator and photographer, the friend and the witness. The multiple roles played by Goldberg/Jim are in direct conflict with the conventions of modern documentary photography. This has the effect of calling into question the role of the photographer/documentarian. Is Raised by Wolves more truthful because it admits the role of the photographer? Or is Goldberg a puppeteer in plain sight? Goldberg is much more a collaborator, allowing his subjects have a direct say and refer to him and the project. Goldberg lets the teens know what he is doing, what his motives are, and allows them to be involved as much or as little as they like.

The book opens with Echo’s story, utilizing photographs, photographs of photographs, video stills, transcripts of a conversation with her mother, Echo’s handwritten testimonial, a map, and the most innocent school portrait. Echo was your average girl in the average working class family until her stepfather, a cop, molested her. The pain at home was too much so she fled across the country at 13 to live in the San Francisco streets. The two page spread gives a blurry abstract notion of suburban bliss and normality (12-13). But this is cut into an interview with R. Sylvia, Beth’s mother, who unflinchingly tells the story of Beth turning her stepfather in to the police and her repeated attempts at running away. A map with handwritten notes and photographs cooberates R. Sylvia’s story.

We meet Tweeky Dave as Echo’s new boyfriend, and Dave is in love. Goldberg lets Dave’s body tell his story first with close-ups of his rotten teeth, track marked arm, and scarred and twisted stomach. Like his scars, Dave’s own handwritten scrawl tells a violent story, a 15 year old junkie mother and a biker father who shot him. This is combined with the transcript of Dave’s story on the next page. In the transcript Dave admits that he is “making things up” because “It doesn’t hurt as much” (36). Already we know that Tweeky Dave is who he says he is, who the other street children think he is, and not his “real” history. “Their twinned stories are told with a mixture of fact and fiction that mirrors their penchant for self-mythologization in their desperate search for identity (Strauss 102). But a few more pages into the book there is a photo of Tweeky Dave’s jean jacket covered in profane writing; this jacket is not a prop. It is here to emphasize the reality, an artifact confirming Dave’s reality. Through out the book there are other objects, depicted unlike anything else — large, full of color and detail. These objects: a jacket, skateboard, broken baseball bat, letter from the hospital, a dirt encrusted pillow, function to tie these non-entities to reality. Do these children without home or parents exist at all? Forgotten and abandoned, so far on the edge of reality these relics give proof to the street kid’s marginal existence.

 

Under Highway 280, San Francisco, 1991
Slamming Alcohol, The Palms Hotel, 1988

After these introductions Goldberg start to let the viewer/reader in on his methods. A black and white photograph of a girl is marked with sharpie, a crude crop mark highlights the girl’s scared wrist. (p61) A few pages later an enlarged strip of film crosses over both pages, this occurs again with crop marks selecting a choice frame (p64-65 and p100-101). These images give us insight into Goldberg’s process, how he selects to crop, the type of image he edits out, but most importantly it allows the viewer to understand that there is a man and a method that is shaping this narrative. He is again reminding us of his subjectivity and his effect his hand has on the work.

While we as viewers are aware that Goldberg is as present in the scenes as the characters themselves, the teens seem to forget about him and allow him to record their most private moments. From sexual encounters to drug use, fights to prostitution, the kids are very open. Transvestites and crack pipes mix with cut heads and bruised necks to form a backdrop were children aren’t children anymore and numbing the pain is more important than survival. Goldberg’s interviews with police officers and a youth counselor highlight the indifference and apathy of the adults who know these children. Adults who, like the children, just don’t know what they can do, yet they have a kind of respect for them, Dave especially. Mindy Lennon, a youth counselor, says of him, “It’s a mystery. Dave is an inspiration to people. He is society’s throw-away” (p133).

Raised by Wolves describes these children, who have been chased out or run out on dysfunctional and abusive families and into the streets where children teach children how to do anything to survive. In his handwritten scrawl Dave writes “Born a wicked child/ raised by wolves/ a screaming kamakazi/ I will never crash” (166). Dave revises his earlier rendition of his life story, he says he made it up and he is really a twin born to a young mother and a politician father who tossed him away, but luckily he was found and raised by a homeless junkie whore (156-9). Goldberg titles Dave’s story “The same ol’ story Romulus and Remus, Griffith Park, LA.” A boy of noble birth forsaken by his family, raised by a wolf (Lupe, the homeless junkie whore), a twin, and a warrior of sorts; Dave fits the bill as Romulus, and the story isn’t true but that hardly matters. How could this street child fabricate a story so thick with history and symbolism; how could he be so prophetic in his poetry? Dave is on a downward spiral, from now on each time Jim sees him there is a little less left. Dave says he is dying but no one really wants to believe him. Echo gets pregnant. Things are falling apart.

Towards the end of the book Goldberg lays out six pages of Polaroids with a couple pages of lists of names. Many of the Polaroids are signed, some addressed to Jim. They read like a yearbook for the streets: have fun, stay cool. But these high school aged kids have been robbed of that innocence and purity. There is no normality on the streets. Still just a girl, Echo cleans up and has her baby, a girl named Amber, and then another. She retreats back to her mother’s suburban home and rejoins “normal” society. She phones Jim often sending snapshots of the girls. Echo returns to being Beth, and in a way her’s is a happy ending.

 

Early Morning, Plummer Park, 1989

Dave on the other hand was telling the truth, he was dying. Dave soaks up small time fame by staring on daytime talk shows, like Jerry Springer, using himself as a repellent for runaways. The last pictures of him are in shocking contrast to the happily blurry snapshots of Beth. The harsh black and white photos of Dave cruelly expose his ravaged face, wrinkled eyes, and rotten stubs of teeth. Jim shows Dave the dummy for the book. He reads it (all of it) and says absolutely nothing. He calls a number of times after this to report on his deteriorating health and cravings for drugs. Jim hesitates to believe him. Dave claims to have hepatitis A,B,C, and D, and maybe E. On November 20, late in the afternoon, Dave calls Jim one last time to say he loves him. The next morning Jim finds out that Tweeky Dave is dead of liver disease. With his last dying will he had called Jim Goldberg, photographer, artist, documentarian, friend, and witness. Before having a ceremony with the street kids, Jim gets in contact with Dave’s real family. His sister is very detached; he was a twin deserted and adopted, his stomach was partly missing due to a birth defect, but he wasn’t abused or chased out. Ten years ago he had gone home right before “momma” died, and for the last two years he called home promising to return soon. Dave never did tell the truth, he was a myth until he died, he was “Tweeky Dave,” a self-created character. Truth is again called into question: Which Dave is the truth? Is there a truthful Dave?

In the end Raised by Wolves proves that it is stronger for it’s use of mixed media. It is a text carved from a grand experience, a story pulled from the streets and the heart. Goldberg tossed old photographic conventions to the wind, discovering a powerful way to weave a narrative. Goldberg also allows himself to become part of the narrative. Without the Jim character to call and to love Dave would have had no one in his last days, hours, and years. It is Jim, the nonjudgmental photographer that brings the audience close to Dave and Echo. We are called by their very human relationships. Raised by Wolves is story told out of devotion, obsession, and emotion. Raised by Wolves is a narrative as potent as any film, novel, or photographic series. Raised by Wolves is purely narrative — it is a story, as true as any story can hope to be, told through many mediums. It is the story of the streets. It is Jim Goldberg’s story.

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ballerini, Julia. “Raised by Wolves (book reviews).” Afterimage 26, no. 6 (Summer 1996): p120-125
Chen, Chris. “No Gravity: Jim Goldberg’s Raised By Wolves.” http://www.idiomart.com/issue_3/wolves.html, 1997
Goldberg, Jim. “Hospice: A Photographic Inquire, Jim Goldberg.” http://pathfinder.com/%40%40TanbUPPMBwAAQBu6/twep/artslink/
exhibitions/hospice/goldberg/goldberg.html, 1998
_________. Rich and Poor. New York: Random House, 1985.
_________. Raised by Wolves. Berlin: Scalo Zurich, 1995.
_________. “Raised by Wolves.” http://www.art.uiuc.edu/@art/rbw/wolves/wolves.html, 1995
McKean, Dave. “Storytelling in the Gutter.” History of Photography 19, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 293-97.
Norton-Westbrook, Becky. “Jim Goldberg: Raised by Wolves.” ArtPapers November-December 1997. 43.
Ribiere, Mireille. “Danny Lyon’s Family Album: Sequence, Series, Set.” History of Photography 19, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 286-91.
Rosenblum, Naomi. A World History of Photography. New York: Abbeville Press, 1997.
Strauss, David Levi. “Jim Goldberg: Pace/Macgill Gallery.” Artforum, September 1996, 102.

 

Around the WEB: Jim Goldberg

* Wikipedia: Jim Goldberg
* Pace/McGill: Jim Goldberg
* The Photographers Gallery: Jim Goldberg
* Magnum Photos: Jim Goldberg
* Stephen Wirtz Gallery: Jim Goldberg
* Bulger Gallery: Jim Goldberg
* California College of the Arts: Jim Goldberg
* Amazon: Jim Goldberg

ASX CHANNEL: Jim Goldberg

 

(© Sarah Wichlacz. All rights reserved. All images © copyright the photographer and/or publisher)

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