Jim Goldberg has spent over 40 years pushing the boundaries of conventional documentary photography. Renowned for his ability to engage with his subjects in a way that’s far deeper than surface level, the San Francisco-based artist and photographer’s portraits of people explore class, happiness, social justice and power. While his subjects have ranged from families in their homes (Rich and Poor, 1985) and street kids in San Francisco and Los Angeles (Raised by Wolves, 1995), to immigrants who have fled economically devastated war-torn countries (Open See, 2009). The depth comes in Goldberg’s execution: hand finished photographs shot on a multitude of cameras that often include handwritten personal accounts from his subjects.
For the new issue of The Face, Goldberg spent two high days in San Francisco with Lev Tanju, James Edson, Danny Brady, Rory Milanes, Lucien Clarke and Shawn Powers, of London’s Palace Skateboards. “We had a lot of fun,” says Goldberg. “It’s normal for me to be hesitant about potential collaborations with brands or organisations because our ideas need to align in a way I feel is real and true to how I see. Palace gave me complete freedom for this project, which was fucking great. We spent a day and a half hanging out and they were generous enough to show me who they really were. I think that’s representative of who they are as a brand as well so it turned out to be a great match.”
The two days manifest here as a combination of Super 8 film stills, Polaroids, and both black and white and colour photographs. “It’s all rather freestyle,” says Goldberg, “much in the way that they freestyle too.”
Where did you take the guys in San Francisco?
I got them to come up to my farm and hang out with the horses and donkeys, then we all went out to eat in this funky old bar in town where Hitchcock filmed The Birds. We partied for a few hours and got to know each other and I think that started off the next day really well as the comfort level was high. Plus, given all the intoxicants some take – it was a pretty relaxed day to say the least. We shot at Twin Peaks, the highest point in San Francisco, and the fog whipped past our heads to the city below. We were also in Chinatown and out by the ocean. But the places weren’t as important as the experience of being together in those particular places.
Was there a moment that stood out the most?
There are so many. I think a really sweet one was when we were in Chinatown waiting for our takeout lunch to be ready, and we all went to a bar across the street and completely took over the place. The locals and regulars took kindly to us and everyone was buying each other drinks and laughing and taking photos of each other and dancing. One of the regulars started throwing firecrackers outside – it was great.
Have you ever skateboarded?
I was a “skateboarder” in 1965. Clay wheels, stuff like that. I remember before then, when I was 10 or 11, watching American Bandstand where Jan and Dean played a new song called Sidewalk Surfing. It was a huge hit in my mind and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Skateboard Quarterly and Skateboard Magazine. Not that I was any good, because I was shit, but I still tried. At one point, I remember being in shock of the cover of Life Magazine which featured a photo of a woman doing a handstand while skateboarding. It was amazing. There was also this short film that I loved called, Skaterdater, which basically taught skater boys how to meet girls. Skateboarding was my first introduction into adolescence and the possibilities of what cool could be.
How would you describe the energy of San Francisco today?
San Francisco always feels like home, even though I now live 50 miles away on my farm, but like any place, changes are happening quickly and neighbourhoods are being lost. People are being forced to move out because it’s too expensive to live there. Homelessness is rising. A lot of the places that I went with Palace were familiar spots that I know and love, which they heard were also good for skating. We wove the day together, wandering through the city and getting a feel for many neighbourhoods, which is why it’s such a great city. There are a lot of different kinds of moods, feelings – even weather. One part of the city will be freezing with fog, and the other side will be sunny, smelling like California.
All images © Jim Goldberg, Photography assistance Emily Barresi and Eric Ruby, Production Anastasia Ehrich and Ilona at Camera Club
Thanks to Havana Laffitte, Ben Reardon and Lev Tanju