Photobook Review: Coming and Going by Jim Goldberg

In Coming and Going, there are births, deaths, and marriages. There is love, loss, and separation, there is heartbreak and confusion, and the burden of having to deal with the constant emotional turmoil of life.

It’s his story, it’s his words, it’s his images. The story of his parents, of his partners, of his children, and of some of the people he photographed in his professional career along the way.

It’s a story told through large-size full-bleed pages filled with handwritten notes, cut up and collaged images, images bleeding from one page to another, and a mass of images that come from professional practice, family archives, formal portraits, incorporating hand-drawn sketches, Polaroids, and TV shots, to name but some of the material on offer in this mammoth volume.

It’s a stream of visual consciousness punctuated by a text-based narrative that anchors key events, starting with a line of dialogue delivered to Goldberg while in Peru:

Llamo tu mamá - Tu papá esta infermo. (Call your mother. Your father is ill)

The title page features a road disappearing into the distance, with the words coming and going scrawled across the sunset of the horizon in red and gold marker.

We see his parents, Herb and Lil in Palm Harbour, Florida, by the pool and ready to serve the homecoming Goldberg with brisket (which he doesn’t like) and iced water that smells of onion. It’s these counter-family-album narratives that really tell the story of family, of the things that infuriate and enrage and niggle even after 50 odd years.

There’s a polaroid of a woman in a swimsuit with ‘This is the moment I fell in love’ written underneath, a bunch of picture from what may have been an assignment in Thailand, and then four polaroids of his mum, each with one word written under them: ‘THE’, ‘CANCER’, ‘HAS’, ‘SPREAD’

There are a bunch of crisps with yes scrawled on them, a marriage ceremony, and a honeymoon where Goldberg and his bride vomit watermelon over themselves on a bus where the man sitting behind them is taken off the bus and beaten by police on suspicion of being a Kurdish spy.

Visual and textual references are made to some of Goldberg’s best-known work. Spyder from Raised by Wolves comes to visit (many of the kids are doing well now, more are not, and some are ‘gone’), while Tweeky Dave makes a guest list for his funeral that includes ‘Elvis (the fat fuck), All corrupt politicians, Jesus and Buddha. And all my enemies, including (maybe), My mom and dad…’

Then Ruby is born and Goldberg writes, ‘This morning I photograph Rub and Susan in bed. I AM IN LOVE.’

And so the world turns. Ruby turns 1, and Goldberg’s father gets lung cancer, first steps merge with Dad’s 76th birthday in a hospital bed and on Saturday 25th December he dies. A black and white picture of his last shave, the clippings lying on the white floor, marks the occasion.

Goldberg separates from Susan, goods are divided, and Goldberg misses his daughter, and his mother’s life slowly shifts as the grief merges into a different life, one filled both with loneliness and longing.

She gets a boyfriend and then she dies. Goldberg sees her body in a cardboard box, her clothes and belongings are bagged, her ashes scattered into a hole ( made with a rental car key ) the grave of his father, a grave Goldberg had never visited before. Years later he revisits and the grave has been swallowed up by a parking lot.

Goldberg undergoes a santeria ritual, and then we’re into more work, this time from Open See, his project on migration.

Ruby grows up is diagnosed with scoliosis and we see her x-ray, Goldberg works at CCAC, the sink is filled with washing up, and Goldberg saves her toothbrushes.

The book ends with Goldberg getting together with fellow photographer, Alessandra Sanguinetti, they have a child Lalle, and a new extended family is born.

More photographs will be made, more words will be written, but his mother will never cook him brisket again, and Goldberg knows that day by day he gets ever nearer the Gone list.


Coming and Going published by Mack Books

Large format OTA bound paperback

26.7 x 34cm, 360 pages

ISBN 978-1-912339-77-8

September 2023

€85 £75 $85

Jim Goldberg’s innovative and multidisciplinary approach to documentary makes him a landmark photographer and social practitioner of our times. His work often examines the lives of neglected, ignored, or otherwise outside-the-mainstream populations through long-term, in depth collaborations which investigate the nature of American myths about class, power, and happiness.

Colin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer based in Bath, England. His latest book, Sofa Portraits is available here.  Follow him on Instagram

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