Nan Goldin


Nan Goldin

Nan was born in Boston, USA in1953.  Her photography began when she was a teenager.  A friend, who was also a photographer, introduced her to the gay/transsexual community. In the early days her focus was mainly on drag queens.  She has continued this theme throughout her work.

The next step was the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  Nan started to create a portfolio of work that later became the basis of her well recognised project called The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. This work is made up of quite intimate portraits of some of her close friends. It celebrates the alternative lifestyles she was seeing and the emergence of subcultures in New York. This project continued to be expanded through out the next few decades.  This included photos taken during Nan’s European travels.

In the 1990s she began to photograph the effects of the AIDS epidemic that was becoming increasingly prevalent.  This was something that was causing the deaths of many of the friends she had made. Nan was also the curate of a controversial show Witnesses: Against our Vanishing.  This took place in New York in November 1989. The exhibition was the focus of a national debate as the National Endowment for the Arts decided to withdraw its funding for the show.  This happened after an article was published in the catalogue which directly criticised several politicians.

In 2007, Goldin received the Hasselblad Award.

“For a number of years I was deeply involved with a man. We were well suited 
emotionally and the relationship became very interdependent. Jealousy was used to 
 inspire passion. His concept of relationships was rooted in … romantic idealism … I craved the dependency, the adoration, the satisfaction, the security, but sometimes I felt claustrophobic. We were addicted to the amount of love the relationship supplied … Things between us started to break down, but neither of us could make the break. The desire was constantly reinspired at the same time that the dissatisfaction became undeniable. Our sexual obsession remained one of the hooks. One night, he battered me severely, almost blinding me”

(Nan Goldin as quoted in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, p8)

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953). Nan on Brian’s Lap, Nan’s Birthday, New York City. 1981. Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008, 15 1/2 x 23 1/8″ (39.3 x 58.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase. © 2016 Nan Goldin
Nan Goldin (American, born 1953). Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City. 1983. Silver dye bleach print, printed 2006, 15 1/2 x 23 3/16″ (39.4 x 58.9 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Jon L. Stryker. © 2016 Nan Goldin
Nan one month after being battered 1984

Even though it is clear to see Nan’s physical injuries inflicted by Brian, we cannot see the mental injuries he’s caused to her. It’s said that he regularly read her diary which, of course, is meant to be personal to her.  Whilst her photography could be very personal, she chose what to show the world but her private diaries were just that, private.  It shows a lack of respect that he had for her.  So maybe this was why she decided to show her horrific injuries to the world?

I learnt about Nan Goldin during my Level 2 photography course.  I was fascinated by her photography.  So honest, so open.  Especially with her own injuries.  The photo was taken a month after they happened.  How bad must they have been for them to look that horrendous one month on.  And how brave for her to put this out to the world.  Many beaten women feel it’s their fault and just feel ashamed.  Not Nan.

Despite looking so bad, she has still styled her hair and put lipstick on. An interesting comparison with the injuries.

As well as her self exploration, Nan was involved in the grittier side of 80’s New York.

She integrated herself into the LGBT community.  She wanted to explore their community. Many of Nan’s photos showed eye contact with her subjects. At this time, the LGBT community were fighting to find their civil rights in the city. Nan’s pictures showed the friendship and intimacy that existed in their world.  Showed a side that many did not see.

I very much like the background of her photos.  What I do not like so much is how some of the photos are not sharp and clear.  I am not a fan of blurry pictures.

However, I love the way she engages with the people she photographs.  They obviously trust her and have embraced her into their lifestyle.

With her self portraits, I like Nan’s honesty with her own life. It’s something I’ve been trying to do with this project.

Nan’s style started to be shaped by her early life experiences.  Her sister committed suicide and she was moved between foster homes.

Nan cites a few photographers that influenced her. She says they increased her confidence so she could try different styles.

The first was Stephen Shore. More specifically his American Surfaces exhibition in 1973. Nan loved how diverse his photos were of his many trips all over America.

These are some of the shots from that exhibition.


Another was William Eggleston. Nan felt that his lavish use of colour enabled her to expand her artistic ways.

I understand – I love these colours.

These are the sort of colours I love in photographs. In the last few years I have gone from being a brown haired girl that wears black clothes to a purple haired girl who wears as much colour as she can.