We’re told by certain economists and media outlets that the disparity between the haves and have-nots in the United States has seldom been greater, and that the gulf may be widening. The middle class and American Dream are under assault, we read. And San Francisco is cited as the most expensive city in the country. Photographer Jim Goldberg and publisher Gerhard Steidl probably had current socioeconomic realities in mind when they made the decision to revise and reprint Goldberg’s Rich and Poor, which contrasts portraits of San Francisco’s elite with portraits of its poorest citizens. Goldberg invited his sitters to write on the images, and what they say about themselves inspires a range of reactions in the reader, from pity, envy and disgust to sympathy and hope.
Goldberg made the work between 1977 and 1985, when Random House published it as a softcover book. This new hardcover edition includes previously unpublished images and contemporary photographs. In his fascinating afterword, Goldberg wonders about his motivation for creating the work in the first place. As a boy in New Haven, Goldberg writes, he was taught American exceptionalism. “We were taught back then that we were on a special path, and 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. And I believed, I really believed, that once people saw what was happening, then we, as a society, would fix it.” Goldberg adds: “I’m less naïve now, or at least I hope I am,” noting that not much has changed. “But I can’t let go of the desire, the impulse, to want to believe in a society where things really will get better.” – Conor Risch