Nancy "Nan" Goldin is an American photographer. As a teenager in Boston in the 1960s, then in New York starting in the 1970s, Nan Goldin has taken intensely personal, spontaneous, sexual, and transgressive photographs of her family, friends, and lovers.
In 1979 Nan Goldin
presented her first slideshow in a New York nightclub, and her richly colored, snapshotlike photographs were soon heralded as a groundbreaking contribution to fine art photography. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
—the name she gave her ever-evolving show—eventually grew into a forty-five-minute multimedia presentation of more than 900 photographs, accompanied by a musical soundtrack.
Goldin first exhibited at Matthew Marks Gallery in 1992. Her work has been the subject of two major touring retrospectives: one organized in 1996 by the Whitney Museum of American Art
and another, in 2001, by the Centre Pompidou
, Paris, and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.
Recent exhibitions include the slide and video presentation Sisters, Saints & Sybils at La Chapelle de la Salpêtrière, Paris, and her contributions to the 40th Les Rencontres d'Arles
in 2009. Goldin was admitted to the French Legion of Honor in 2006 and received the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in 2007.
The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
was most recently presented live in Turbine Hall at Tate Modern
, London, in 2008, and the slideshow was installed in the exhibition Here is Every
. Four Decades of Contemporary Art
at the Museum of Modern Art
New York, September 2008 to March 2009. Her Scopophilia
exhibition is currently part of Patrice Chéreau's special program at the Louvre.
Goldin lives and works in Paris and New York.
For me it is not a detachment to take a picture. It’s a way of touching somebody—it’s a caress.... I think that you can actually give people access to their own soul.
-- Nan Goldin
Nancy Goldin is an American photographer and activist. Her work often explores LGBT subcultures, moments of intimacy, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and the opioid epidemic. Her most notable work is The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
(1986), a slide show, that documents the post-Stonewall gay subculture and Goldin's family and friends. She is a founding member of the advocacy group P.A.I.N.
(Prescription Addiction Intervention Now).
Goldin's first solo show, held in Boston in 1973, was based on her photographic journeys among the city's gay and transgender communities, to which she had been introduced by her friend David Armstrong
. While living in downtown Boston at age 18, Goldin "fell in with the drag queens,"
living with them and photographing them. Among her work from this period is Ivy wearing a fall, Boston (1973). Unlike some photographers who were interested in psychoanalyzing or exposing the queens, Goldin admired and respected their sexuality. Goldin said, "My desire was to show them as a third gender, as another sexual option, a gender option. And to show them with a lot of respect and love, to kind of glorify them because I really admire people who can recreate themselves and manifest their fantasies publicly. I think it's brave"
Goldin admitted to being romantically in love with a queen during this period of her life in a Q&A with Bomb "I remember going through a psychology book trying to find something about it when I was nineteen. There was one little chapter about it in an abnormal psych book that made it sound so ... I don't know what they ascribed it to, but it was so bizarre. And that's where I was at that time in my life. I lived with them; it was my whole focus. Everything I did – that's who I was all the time. And that's who I wanted to be"
Goldin describes her life as being completely immersed in the queens'. However, upon attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, when her professors told her to go back and photograph queens again, Goldin admitted her work was not the same as when she had lived with them. Goldin graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts
in 1977/1978, where she had worked mostly with Cibachrome prints. Her work from this period is associated with the Boston School of Photography.
Following graduation, Goldin moved to New York City. She began documenting the post-punk new-wave music scene, along with the city's vibrant, post-Stonewall gay subculture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was drawn especially to the hard-drug subculture of the Bowery neighborhood; these photographs, taken between 1979 and 1986, form her slideshow The Ballad of Sexual Dependency—a title taken from a song in Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera. Later published as a book with help from Marvin Heiferman
, Mark Holborn
, and Suzanne Fletcher
, these snapshot aesthetic images depict drug use, violent, aggressive couples and autobiographical moments. In her foreword to the book she describes it as a "diary [she] lets people read"
of people she referred to as her "tribe"
. Part of Ballad was driven by the need to remember her extended family. Photography was a way for her to hold onto her friends, she hoped.
The photographs show a transition through Goldin's travels and her life. Most of her Ballad
subjects were dead by the 1990s, lost either to drug overdose or AIDS; this tally included close friends and often-photographed subjects Greer Lankton
and Cookie Mueller
. In 2003, The New York Times
nodded to the work's impact, explaining Goldin had "forged a genre, with photography as influential as any in the last twenty years."
In addition to Ballad, she combined her Bowery
pictures in two other series: I'll Be Your Mirror
(from a song by The Velvet Underground) and All By Myself
Goldin's work is most often presented in the form of a slideshow, and has been shown at film festivals; her most famous being a 45-minute show in which 800 pictures are displayed. The main themes of her early pictures are love, gender, domesticity, and sexuality. She has affectionately documented women looking in mirrors, girls in bathrooms and barrooms, drag queens, sexual acts, and the culture of obsession and dependency. The images are viewed like a private journal made public. In the book Auto-Focus
, her photographs are described as a way to "learn the stories and intimate details of those closest to her"
. It speaks of her uncompromising manner and style when photographing acts such as drug use, sex, violence, arguments, and traveling. It references one of Goldin's notable photographs "Nan One Month After Being Battered, 1984"
as an iconic image which she uses to reclaim her identity and her life.
Goldin's work since 1995 has included a wide array of subject matter: collaborative book projects with Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki
; New York City skylines; uncanny landscapes (notably of people in water); her lover, Siobhan; and babies, parenthood and family life. In 2000, her hand was injured and she currently retains less ability to turn it than in the past.
In 2006, her exhibition, Chasing a Ghost
, opened in New York. It was the first installation by her to include moving pictures, a full narrative score, and voiceover, and included the three-screen slide and video presentation Sisters, Saints, & Sybils
. The work involved her sister Barbara's suicide and how she coped through the production of numerous images and narratives. Her works are developing more and more into cinemaesque features, exemplifying her gravitation towards working with films.
After some time, her photos moved from portrayals of dangerous youthful abandonment to scenes of parenthood and family life in progressively worldwide settings.