Jim Goldberg presents outtakes from his late-80s and early-90s documentation of marginalised Californian youth

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Over two decades since Raised by Wolves was first published, Goldberg reveals a collection of unseen Polaroids from his decade-long project charting the lives of runaway teenagers across the West Coast

For his series Raised by Wolves, published in 1995, Jim Goldberg charted the lives of runaway teenagers in San Francisco and Los Angeles over a decade. Young men and women confined to the cities’ streets surrounded by a haze of drugs, abuse and violence. Goldberg was unfazed by their environment and endeavoured to understand the individuals he spent time with: their painful histories and turbulent realities. He documented their lives through photographs, movie stills, and text contributed by his subjects. 

Goldberg began Raised by Wolves in 1985 and started assembling the book in 1991. Over two decades after its publication, he reissued it as a bootleg printed mostly on a Xerox machine. Several years later, Goldberg has returned to his archive, releasing Fingerprint, published by Stanley/Barker: a collection of grainy facsimile Polaroids, encased in a small silkscreened box, many never seen before. The Polaroids reveal drafts for stills Goldberg would later shoot for the project, some of which he gave to his subjects.

Despite being replicas, the Polaroids feel real, in texture and detail. Their backs are stained and watermarked, and on some, Goldberg has jotted numbers. Their fronts, meanwhile, reveal raw, candid stills; windows onto his subjects and their lives, many bearing notes from the individuals depicted. “Scott – I am a normal person,” reads the almost unintelligible writing bordering a Polaroid of a young man in a white shirt, sleeves rolled up. “To the people of the world. Fuck you. I love Hollywood Stoners,” reads the spidery scrawl of another, veiled by the image’s degradation. “Jim, I think I’m gonna cut this off. Thank you for saying the picture is going to turn out great,” reads the chunky lettering of a young woman, hands clutching her long ponytail. Indeed, love, intimacy, hopelessness, rebellion, sadness and anger flood through the photographs, shedding light on the highs and lows of the eclectic mix of characters who populate them.

The Washington Post referred to the series as, “A heartbreaking novel with pictures,” when it was first published. And, at the time, Raised by Wolves was revolutionary in its combination of documentary and narrative fiction. Goldberg’s aim was not journalistic. Instead, he saw his role as telling his subjects’ stories, whether they were masked in lies and half-truths or not. Fingerprint further reveals how deep he ventured into their lives. He shows his subjects’ pain and hardship but also restores the humanity that mainstream representations and perceptions had stripped from them. 

The first edition of Fingerprints, published by Stanley/Barker is sold out. But, the second edition is available to preorder here, and will begin shipping in March 2021.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.