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California College of Arts and Crafts

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Although a photographer’s process is integral to his/her work, it is often a carefully guarded secret. Most photographers tend to keep the development of their work to themselves, sometimes choosing to seek counsel only from a small circle of trusted friends.

It comes as a surprise, then, to find Magnum photographer Jim Goldberg’s reworked sketches, videos and maquettes of his groundbreaking books openly shared online.

For Goldberg—a photographer whose approach has always been eclectic, evolving, and utilizing other mediums, including text—the very act of sharing these works in progress is an important and formative part of the final product.

Goldberg talked to LightBox about the process of revisiting, sharing and republishing two of his groundbreaking works. Rich and Poor (1977-85) juxtaposes two economic classes through intimate environmental portraits and personal statements written on the prints by the subjects, while Raised by Wolves (1985-95) documents the lives of homeless runaways in San Francisco and Los Angeles through photographs, text, drawings and interviews.

Being a teacher for so long, I’ve realized that so much of what you teach students is about learning to respect the importance of process. Watching students grow is interesting—and them observing my process helps them see that it’s not that mysterious of a thing to do. In order to figure this artmaking stuff out, it’s trial and error and experimentation, and takes some time and hard thinking. Putting work out in many forms and stages is an extension of how I see things. I feel the art process is best served when it invites comments and constructive criticism from people. It’s a strategic gesture, too, because the feedback I receive helps me move forward with my ideas, which is what process is about—to craft and evolve something.

Rich and Poor

I was invited by Steidl to republish Rich and Poor. Up to this point my archive was mostly analog. Revisiting Rich and Poor meant that it was time to start digitizing my older work. I started by going through all of my contact sheets and re-editing.  My studio ended up scanning a lot of images that were never printed in the original book, which in turn gave me a way to experience my old work with a beginners mind. This got me excited about seeing things I had passed over years before during my original edit. When I originally made the work, I was getting so much positive feedback about how I was using images with text that the stand-alone images fell by the wayside. Or perhaps back then I didn’t have the courage to include images that functioned simply as straight photographs.

Revisiting the archive excited me on many levels. The freshness of my youth particularly resonated with me, but it also gave me thirty years of distance to look back at these images. Aside from the overall nostalgic patina, I feel like I was looking at these images with a critical distance for the first time. I’m now able to separate my own impulses with the overarching history/context of what was happening in the 70’s and 80’s.

I also wanted to conceptually tie the past in with the present and so decided to revisit a few of the original subjects and map where they are today. I plan to include this in the new Rich and Poor edition via a small insert of contemporary imagery.

Raised by Wolves

Raised by Wolves has been out of print for some time, which has made it expensive and difficult to find—so people are constantly asking me for it. It’s also been almost 20 years since the book was published, so I felt it would be a good time to put it back on the table as something to look at again, as well as digitize.

Raised by Wolves was a good ten years of working with the kids; collecting ephemera; and making the exhibition and the book.

Still when it came time for the book and exhibition to be produced, and all the deadlines were mounting, aesthetic choices had to be made quickly as to what would be included and what was to go back into boxes. So there was a lot that hasn’t been looked at since.

My studio manager and I started brainstorming on strategies to get the work out there again, and we decided that the best way would be to make something to put up on my website.

So we took a new intern to the studio—who happened to be a production whizz—and had him organize and digitize everything. I gave him some guidance and checked in with him often on we had had discovered on that particular day, but for the most part gave him free reign as to what could be explored and organized.

Based on what I was witnessing on the streets, I knew that I needed to record what I was experiencing in ways that just couldn’t be done with the camera alone. I have, since the beginning of my career, used text, video, audio, Polaroids, found objects, and ephemera. With Raised by Wolves it was my first attempt to incorporate all these various approaches into one project.

Raised by Wolves, video by Jim Goldberg

The children in Raised by Wolves were living hard lives—lives that were leading to nowhere. So now, when I reheard a recording that the intern (Brandon) had found in some box, and I heard the voice of lets say Tweeky Dave, well that added something that would extend to the viewers experience of the project.

 It’s always good to find things that you haven’t found before. I’m not doing it because I have nothing else to do or because I’m old and I may as well go back into my archive. I’m going back into my archive with purpose—to see what I can reinvent. I’m still vibrant and making new work. The making of the new work guides how the old work looks.

Beyond Rich and Poor and Raised by Wolves, Goldberg is revisiting and re-imagining other projects from his archive. A previously unpublished series titled Coming and Going is being reworked as a series of Japanese small books. Goldberg is also reevaluating and reworking Open See, the project for which he was given the Henri Cartier-Bresson Award in 2007 and the Duestche Borse Award in 2011. Goldberg plans a new edition that will be more expansive than the original, one that will further explain the complexities of the situation—of immigration, being a refugee and being trafficked in a place and time. Working roughs for the proposed book and multimedia sketches for the project again are available online. Goldberg says of his process “Its always good to find things that you haven’t found before and I’m going back into my archive with purpose—to see what I can reinvent. I’m still vibrant and making new work. The making of the new work guides how the old work looks.”

Photographer/Artist Jim Goldberg is a member of Magnum Photos and Professor of Art at the California College of Arts and Crafts. He Lives in San Francisco.

 

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Years ago, the photographers Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel decided to put together a book about the work on which they had collaborated, decades worth of significant art made between the 1970s and 1990s. Each had been working on his own solo projects and Mandel had left California, where the two grew up and met and studied together, so the book was always meant to be a look back, a visitation from a place of finality. But then Larry Sultan got sick. Sultan succumbed to cancer in December of 2009 at the age of 63.

“We thought it would be great to take some of the work that people hadn’t seen a lot of or hadn’t seen anything about and bring that to light, and we just thought now would be a great opportunity to do that, now that we were kind of moving into a different part of our lives,” Mandel says. “We didn’t realize Larry was moving into leaving this place.”

The book project was dormant for a while after Sultan’s death, but his wife, assistant and gallerist—who continued to be involved throughout the project—helped Mandel get the idea going again. Because the book had always been about a collaboration that had ended, the form and structure imagined by Mandel and Sultan could still be implemented. The resulting book, Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel, will be released by Distributed Art Publishers in September.

The artists, who met as graduate students at the San Francisco Art Institute, shared an openness to conceptual and experimental photography. “We were lucky to be young and freshly in that world when so much was changing,” says Mandel. The medium was expanding—although Sultan later became known as a photographer, the work the two did together is photography mainly in a conceptual sense—and the community was small enough that the two had access to influential teachers and artists even outside their school environment.

Courtesy Mike Mandel

Larry Sultan (R) and Mike Mandel, circa 1997

Their collaboration began in 1973 with public art displayed on billboards, work that both interrogated the tropes of advertising and challenged art by placing it in a commercial context. They continued to make billboards for many years. They also worked together on books, including How to Read Music in One Evening, which re-appropriated advertising imagery, and the seminal Evidence, their best known work, which took documentary and archival photos out of their contexts. Later, the two turned their attention to the news media, applying their signature critical mindfulness to the subject. Alongside photographic highlights of their art career together, Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel features analytical essays and a metaphorical commentary by author Jonathan Lethem.

Mandel says that this new book was an opportunity to revisit some of their projects that had not been previously examined. “As time went on I think we recognized that a lot of the work we had decided at the time we didn’t need to talk about really ought to be talked about, for different reasons,” he says. “We did re-frame what we chose to put in the book based on this idea of looking back and being a little bit more generous toward ourselves.”

But even though the photographers had discussed the content of the book prior to Sultan’s illness, Mandel was left to make many decisions alone. He says that there were moments when he knew that there would have been a disagreement if Sultan had been there; the weight of sole responsibility was a heavy one. And they hadn’t yet decided how to end the book. Mandel chose the project Newsroom, a 1983 exhibit in which they used news tickers to edit their own versions of the days events, as the book’s stopping place. He says he felt that to stop there was to present the most coherent set of ideas, and it was also a chance to step back and look at a project that the artists had been such part of that they never got to see it from a distance. “If Larry had been with me it would have been really great to have done that together,” Mandel says.

In an essay that accompanied Evidence, Robert F. Forth, the dean of the California College of Arts and Crafts, examined the meanings of evidence, surprise and context. He wrote about the “yin/yang balance between the circumstantial and the evident,” the way that the two compliment each other to make one whole thought. If one has any defect, its relationship to the other can fill that whole. Likewise, says Mandel, his own introverted working process and Sultan’s gregarious quick thinking co-existed without one drowning out the other.

“We just had a very different way of being but we both trusted each other a lot and we both gave each other as much room to argue and promote our ideas as much as we could. That’s what the Socratic attitude was about. It was about testing these ideas,” says Mandel. “We collaborated as equals all the way through our relationship.”

Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel, will be released in September by Distributed Art Publishers.

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Zoniers, Porte de Choisy, 1913By Stephen Longmire, Afterimage, May 2001It has been 20 years, amazingly enough, since New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) launched its landmark cycle of exhibitions of the work of French photographer Eugene Atget (1857-1927), who spent his last 30 years documenting the architectural record of Paris and its surroundings at the beginning of the last century.

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