Jim Goldberg – Open See

Jim Goldberg is a a member of Magnum Photos and a Professor of Art at the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco. He has received numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship and three NEA awards.

Goldberg has produced a book project entitled ‘Open See’ which is about what he terms ‘”new Europeans” – illegal immigrants, refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and eastern Europe’ (1). A quick flick-through of the book can be seen on this Youtube video below.

I found Goldberg’s images quite dark, disturbing and very depressing. The process of illegal immigration or being a refugee is not clear cut or clean as that of the regular immigration route. It is one which is fraught with danger, interspersed with atrocities and horror.

Goldberg presents many of his images of the immigrants/refugees as polaroids. On these polaroids the subject has written something about his/herself. Sometimes it is a life story, sometimes a dream, often the stark reality of what is happening to the subject currently. The writing or scribbles are at times written in the subject’s native tongue, leaving the interpretation totally open. One is left wondering what this person’s story is – how bad is it?


Ndiho Monozande in Open See by Jim Goldberg (copyright)
Ndiho Monozande in Open See by Jim Goldberg (copyright)

The scribbles on the polaroids actually displace the subject from the image. The scribbles take on the focus point and the human subject becomes a secondary feature, rather similar to what is happening in his/her real life. In the image above, Ndiho Monozande is featured facing the photographer in monochrome, and on the facing page he is featured in colour, standing with his back to the photographer sans shirt, exposing his back with what must be scars made by a machete. His story is written in blue ink around both images. It is interesting to note that Goldberg let his subject choose their own colours to write with. Blue is usually associated with calmness and loyalty, but it is also the colour of communication, so we even though we cannot understand the written words, we can connote just from the colour of the text that Monozande is yearning for inner peace and security.

Interspersed between the polaroid photos are documentary images of the refugees in their temporary dwellings, people going about their daily life and these images give a bit of respite from the sad and depressing polaroids.

The way Goldberg has used text to aid his narratives gives credence to the stories. It is as if the photograph has become a found object, providing real evidence that the person exists, proof that someone cared enough to tell their story and carry it out of the country for them.

Reference List

Jim Goldberg: Open See [webcast, online] Allphotobooks, Steidl, Germany, 08/07/2012. 4 mins 58 secs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O0BVWP27iU (accessed 29/12/2015)

(1) O’Hagan, Sean (2009). Jim Goldberg: Open See [online]. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/nov/01/jim-goldberg-open-see-review [Accessed 29 December, 2015]


Schuman, Aaron (2011). ‘Open See’ In Conversation with Jim Goldberg [online]. Seesaw Magazine. Available from: http://www.seesawmagazine.com/jimgoldberginterview/jimgoldberginterview.html [Accessed 29 December, 2015]

The Color Blue. Empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com. Available from: http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/color-blue.html [Accessed 29 December, 2015]


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