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Book of the Week: Selected by Blake Andrews

Book Review Coming and Going Photographs by Jim Goldberg Reviewed by Blake Andrews “At 66, Jim Goldberg is edging into his golden years but still young at heart. Give him a pair of scissors and some rubber cement and he’s like a kid in a sandbox..."

Coming and Going. By Jim Goldberg.
Coming and Going
Photographs by Jim Goldberg
MACK, London, UK, 2023. 360 pp., 10½x13½".

At 66, Jim Goldberg is edging into his golden years but still young at heart. Give him a pair of scissors and some rubber cement and he’s like a kid in a sandbox. He’s used these rudimentary tools to collage together a richly sophisticated art practice, with one blockbuster photo project after another. His photobooks include Raised By Wolves, Open See, and The Last Son, all of which demonstrate his signature cut-and-paste scrapbooking style. These and other monographs have helped him ascend the photo heights: Magnum membership, multiple NEA grants, a Guggenheim, and professor emeritus status at CCA.

Goldberg has a big heart, and he has used photo projects to illuminate the neglected American underclass. As described on his website, he conducts “long-term, in-depth collaborations which investigate the nature of American myths about class, power, and happiness.” He’s something of a social justice warrior, and such work is much needed and appreciated. But what about Goldberg himself? As might be expected from someone working in journalistic tradition, he’s captured his own life in the course of daily output. These photos have appeared here and there in bits and pieces. But until now he’s mostly kept out of his own spotlight.

Coming and Going
puts the focus on Goldberg. Spanning a timeline roughly from his mid-twenties to the present, it is a monumental memoir, 13 inches tall, with 360 full-bleed pages. Even softbound, it weighs over 6 pounds. The reader’s task feels Herculean initially. But it turns out to be quite manageable, even fun. Coming and Going is sequenced as a chronological memoir. It’s structured like a graphic novel, with images and words taking lead turns, and interacting in interesting ways. Goldberg is a natural storyteller and he’s had an interesting life. This might even be considered a page-turner, at least in the contemporary photobook world of occasionally clunky narrative.

When we first find the protagonist, he is in Lima, Peru circa 1979. He’s a globetrotting twenty-something with a pocket full of Tri-X. He’s busy Coming and Going, as they say. But Goldberg is soon pulled back to the daily tumult by the first of several major life events (all helpfully noted in the book with handwritten dates, lest they spin out of control). His father is sick. He returns to help his folks Herb and Lil, still living in his childhood home in Florida. But he’s not ready to settle down, and before long he’s off on more adventures. His peripatetic twenties and thirties leave a blizzard of Polaroids, 35 mm negs, and written notes. He falls in love, marries Susan Miller, has a daughter, Ruby, turns 40, enjoys professional breakthroughs. He checks in for an update on Echo and Tweaky Dave from Raised By Wolves. Soon his father passes and his marriage crumbles in a heavily redacted “Dear John” letter. Whew! That’s all Part I, the first half of the book.

Part II begins with his traumatic divorce from Miller. A heartbreaking list of possessions to be divided is blunt and to the point. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but this one only needs a few hundred to describe decades of turmoil. As Ruby grows through childhood and adolescence, she assumes a growing role in Goldberg’s life, and in the book. He falls into parent routines, helping with homework and sorting Halloween candy. Meanwhile, his aging mother and teaching duties demand increased attention. The dishes pile up. Life goes on. He remarries (to the photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti) and they have a daughter. His mother passes, leaving a fridge of food and a box of heirloom jewelry. She joins a star chart of lost friends. As the book finishes in a retreating collage of faces and memories, Ruby is roughly the age Goldberg was when this tale began. The next generation is ready to step up.

As one life event gives way to the next one, Goldberg deftly divulges his personal history through notes, photos, handwriting, craft projects, and clipped collages. Few other photographers can so seamlessly weave large format negatives, Polaroids, 35 mm trimmings, and contact sheets. All are fair game for him. It would be a mess in other hands. But Goldberg has had years of practice through past monographs, and he makes it look easy. His photos come and go. Before we know it he’s 66.

The rough content and structure of Coming and Going are not atypical. You’d find similar stories in any personal history, and perhaps they’d even be fleshed out in a scrapbook like this one, tucked in the family den. Goldberg isn’t special in this regard. He’s lived an “everyman” life, widely relatable in most aspects. But, Goldberg being Goldberg, he is a photo connoisseur as well, and this visual memoir is several notches above the common family album. He knows just when to pack a page with pictures, when to leave space in the flow, when to share a letter or memento. Double-spread photos of white noise TV screens serve as quiet placeholders, moments of narrative reverie for the reader to catch their breath. The white silhouetted head from Raised By Wolves’ cover is another recurring motif. Perhaps it’s meant to reference his art career? Or it may be a literally empty vessel, interspersed here and there to collect the reader’s thoughts. In any case, he’s once again proved his mastery of simple cut-and-paste technique. He’s a kid in a sandbox, just as he’s always been. After years of building castles, this one is dedicated to himself.

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at