Raised by Wolves

It came up in a recent conversation I had with photographer Gregory Halpern.

Raised by Wolves, by Jim Goldberg.

Of course I knew the book – taken it out of libraries several times over the years – but I’d never really known the book.  In the past, I’d always flipped through the pictures, and read enough of the text to get a general understanding.

I now think of it as Goldberg’s best work; it’s too bad I’m such a late-comer.  Raised by Wolves is a narrative documentary about homeless teenage runaways in Hollywood and San Francisco.

The narrative techniques and strategies are wonderful.  The story is told in fragments that don’t relate directly, but all elude back to each other.  Goldberg collects and compiles interviews, letters, and photographs to document and portray the lives of these youths.  The narrative is broken and inconsistent, just like the lives it portrays.

Strangely, Goldberg’s narrative reminds me of Fazal Sheikh – in the journals and writings he provides in his books about Somalia and Afghanistan – Bill Burke – his collage narratives set in Southeast Asia – and Larry Clark – the hard-nose narratives of Tulsa and Teenage Lust.

Goldberg’s narrative is blunt and difficult to take.  The tragedy of these lives is presented (seemingly) clear and factual.

I have some hesitancy in accepting all of Goldberg’s intentions, or perhaps what his presence is in creating and compiling the narrative.  He is a sort of anthropologist, participant, and friend.  He is there to record the lives without judgement or intervention, and also to give few bucks and a helping hand.

Though in the end, Goldberg’s clarity and story-telling win.  The narrative is powerful and emotive.  He knows when and how to let the subjects speak for themselves.  The pictures are simple, and project a sort of honesty.  These lives are full of drugs and destruction, and their anger and despair is given without shame.

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