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.


Melissa Spitz

American photographer Spitz was only 7 years old when her mum was put into a institution.  On that day she was alone with her mother. Her dad and brother were away.  Her mother was convinced that there were people in the house trying to kill them.  She rang the police to tell them.  Eventually she was sectioned and Spitz went to stay with neighbours until her dad returned.

Her father took her to the mental institution to visit.  The yellow walls and horrible smell are what she remembers.  From that day on, their lives were to change. Her father left his job to move them nearer to his wife’s family. A nanny was hired so her mother could concentrate on herself.  Life was a round of hospital visits and prescription drugs.  Her mum, over the years, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.

 For a period of time as a teenager, Spitz found her mum ‘cool’.  At 12, she would her cigarettes so she wouldn’t get in trouble.  She would provide them with alcohol.  She let Spitz use her credit card. However, when she told a friend’s parents that her own parents fought a lot, her mother threw scissors at her and pinned her to the wall. Her mum drank a lot. She would pass out all the time. Quite often when she was driving.  Spitz often drove her mum home from the mall at 14 because she was so drunk.

Her mum was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was around 12. Spitz says she told her dad to divorce her mum.  She said she would rather see them apart than fighting all the time.

 In 2009 she was given a photography assignment to takes photo of something private. Anger made her take photos of her mother. Although she was concerned that taking pictures of her constantly drunk mother was wrong, the years of abuse made her want to show the world her perspective of this life.

Her teacher encouraged her to carry on.  She found these pictures a way of making sense of the abuse she had suffered over the years.  She felt photos froze these times – every bruise, pills, burn holes and gave her power over her own life.

As someone who had a fairly normal upbringing, I cannot begin to imagine how this life has affected this lady.  It is amazing that photography has enabled her to take control over the situation and help herself move on. It is an incredible set of images.

Mom praying to Jesus that she gets better.
Mom smoking in bed.

I really like her style and the way it shows her complicated relationship with her mother. Her photos are clear and raw in their content.

On the whole I had a fairly normal upbringing. My parents are still together, they’ve been married for 60 years. I have 2 brothers and a sister, all of whom are a lot older than me. My eldest brother is 12 years old, my sister 10 years and my second brother, 9 years. My parents were always very open with me that I was an accident. As such, I’ve not really felt like I part of my very large family because I was so much younger.  My mum has 4 siblings, my dad has 8. I have a million family members. Anyway, my point is that I have been left with some, but not major, issues from growing up.  This woman has had such an awful life.  No normal parental guidance. It took many years before she found a way of channelling her feelings through her photos. Her work is very clear and concise.

“I fell down and broke my jaw”, 2012

A bit like Nan’s photos, despite being injured, this lady has her makeup on.  Many of the photos that Melissa took of her are the same.  Despite her every day hell, she still puts make up on.

Vivian Maier

Click the picture to the right to view a more detailed bio I have written about Maier.

I have studied Maier before but I have to mention her again in this project as I find her story fascinating and very sad.  Another photographer who wasn’t recognized until after her death.  She kept her undeveloped negatives in a storage space.  She didn’t keep up the payments and her belongings were put to auction.  It is unconceivable to think she didn’t actually see her developed work.  I can’t image not wanting to see my finished work. It is said that she had taken over 100,000 images.

Maier used a Rolleiflex camera which could be operated at chest level.

Whilst Maier shot glamorous women shopping and dramatically lit buildings, many of her photos were of herself.

Look at this and imagine you had set this picture up but it’s likely you will never see the finished result. That’s the excitement for me. To get home and see how the shot has come out.

This is one of my favourite pictures.  She has captured the on-going reflection of herself and her camera in the mirror. She has framed the picture nicely.  The spirals going backwards are almost like a 60s pattern. The light it coming from windows on the right-hand side.

I’ve not seen this picture before.  It caught my eye.  It’s a great shadow photo.  Maier’s head almost looks alien-like.  We know it’s not because of the reflection in the globe.  I wonder if the placement of the globe is to do with being female and our feminine parts.