Picturing the South: 25 Years


Picturing the South: 25 Years


Jim Goldberg

American, born 1953; lives in Petaluma, California

"Hailey and Whitney, Right of Way Road, Augusta, Arkansas" by Jim Goldberg

Jim Goldberg (American, born 1953), Hailey and Whitney, Right of Way Road, Augusta, Arkansas (detail), 2021, pigmented inkjet print, 30 x 37 1/2 inches, commissioned with funds from the H. B. and Doris Massey Charitable Trust and lent by the artist, PTS.JG22. © Jim Goldberg.


Since the late 1970s, Jim Goldberg has challenged the conventions of documentary practice by combining text, ephemera, and found images with his photographs to tell deeply personal stories about pressing social and political issues across the world. In collaborations with his subjects, he includes their words written alongside and, often, on top of his disarming portraits. These collaborations delve into the subtleties of the photographer-subject relationship and tell layered stories about often abstract matters such as economic inequality, youth homelessness, and global migration.

In early 2020, he traveled to Augusta, a small, racially mixed, working-class town located along the White River in Arkansas’s Delta region. He was interested in how the histories of lineage and land ownership continued to shape the dialogues and perspectives of the Delta’s residents. There he investigated small-town life, looking for visual evidence in the town’s landscape, architecture, and familial ties of delicate social dynamics. Of his direct yet vibrant color photographs, he explained, “Every small-town has its share of mysteries and secrets, of racial divides, of haves and have nots, of how people dress and present themselves, of how buildings fall apart or are propped up . . . It’s all there beneath the surface.”

Goldberg’s first trip was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, but after a year away, he made two trips back to Augusta and nearby McCrory in 2021. He spent the intervening year maintaining relationships and returned to photograph sites of local significance and the town’s residents with greater intimacy and awareness. He was repeatedly drawn to the White River, which was the economic lifeblood of Augusta until the turn of the century and remains a vital part of daily life in the town. In the river’s many whirlpools created by opposing currents, he found a metaphor for the tensions within the community and in the country at large. He created Whirlpool by collaging black-and-white photographs of the river overlaid with his handwritten texts recounting some of the many stories the residents of Augusta shared with him. As he affirmed, “These people’s lives are a true reflection of contemporary American consciousness.”

Goldberg’s work, shown here for the first time, is ongoing and will continue to evolve as he photographs over the coming years.

View all works in the commission.

“These people’s lives are a true reflection of contemporary American consciousness.”

Jim Goldberg