THE PHOTOBOOK REVIEW

Issue 16

Guest editor: Federica Chiocchetti

Aperture Foundation

Spring 2019

Aperture.org

On Rich and Poor by Jim Goldberg, 1985

Rich and Poor proves to be both perfectly of its time and premonitory, politically and aesthetically. This work, which Jim Goldberg started in 1977, was published at the end of US President Ronald Reagan’s first term, in 1985. This was a time marked by economic liberalism and tax cuts for the richest, as prescribed by the trickle-down theory, which decreed that income growth would end up benefiting the poorest—a point of view that has mostly come back into style today in large liberal democracies. Critics of that policy, however, felt that without regulations or other checks and balances, it could only result in increased inequality. By its very title, Rich and Poor proposes to address the issue. 

Aesthetically, Jim Goldberg breaks new ground. He rejects the position of the photographer’s dominance and instead realizes a coproduction with his subjects. The portraits are captured in the sitters’ environ-ments: the poorest are often in hotel rooms with furniture falling apart, the richest in their bourgeois con-text. But, once the photographs were printed, Goldberg returned to see each subject and asked them to write their feelings by hand in the margins of the images. The final work is therefore a photographic and handwrit- ten collaborative account. Some comment on their own likeness; often, the poorest thank him for having taken an interest in them. All, or almost all, both poor and rich, comment on their life conditions, either to deplore them or boast about them. 

Rich and Poor is emblematic of the invention of a participatory project in which the voice of the photographer is but one among others. That process thus expands the opinion that the reader might formulate on the theme without it being “imposed” by the artist. In recent years, as evidenced by publications like Edmund Clark’s Control Order House (Here Press, 2012) and Nina Berman and Kimberly Stevens’s An autobiography of Miss Wish (Kehrer Verlag, 2017), among others, this manner of creating a dialogue between images and discourse has found renewed life with the hand-writing and words of “the other” increasing the power of the photographer’s work.