The Wild(e) Photographer Nan Goldin is Our Artist of the Week

September 8, 2016

Recently we've witnessed a reviving of interest in the identity of celebrated art-maker Banksy. And while many still ponder on whether Banksy is, in fact, Robert Del Naja, one of the Massive Attack band members, photographer Nan Goldin explores the topic of identity in a completely different manner. Away from the hype and the controversy that surrounds the world's most famous anonymous, Nan Goldin showcases the world of true anonymous, the outsiders, drug addicts, and LGBT community, the world where the identity search is as long, as complicated and as painful as life itself. Trough striking, raw, and often brutal images of everyday life, Nan Goldin spotlighted groups that the society often refuses to see. By creating an array of images that revolved around personal and gender identity, relationships and physical pain, the photographer told a story of a troubled generation and the long hard road of self-discovery which is something that we can all relate to today. Even thirty years after her big break, Nan Goldin continues to be the hardcore photographer, the biographer of the ill, the weird, the addicted and the bohemians. For her tiresome work on showing the world, what the society tries hard to hide we name Nan Goldin our Artist of the week.

Photographer born in 1953 started her career in experimental school when a teacher gifted her and other students camera and film.
Nan Goldin - Valerie and Gotscho Embracing, Paris ,1999

Nan Goldin - The Ballad of Sexual Dependency

Before Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels made our lives a public affair, Nan Goldin shocked the public with her profoundly intimate and deeply moving visual diary. The photographer who started her career by shooting transvestite competitions in her hometown of Boston, got her big breake in the 1980s, when she presented a multimedia installation reflecting on the artist's and her friends' daily lives named The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. This personal autobiographical work was created during a series of performances that portray a decade in the life of the photographer and her friends compressed in "forty minutes long, rapid-fire succession, slideshow, accompanied by appropriate, mood-setting music tunes."[1] The Ballad of Sexual Dependency depicts the photographer and her friends while bathing, partying, making love and raising children, but the artwork also deals with the dark side of such urban subculture and bohemian lifestyle and includes numerous photographs of people injecting heroin, dying and beating each other. Best known image from the show, Nan One Month After Being Battered is a raw portrayal of domestic abuse as the photographer shows her wounds after being beaten by her boyfriend. Though the title suggests that the film revolves around sexual dependency of women, it's more about the portrayal of sadness, loneliness and the attempt to find an antidote for these "toxic" emotions. As New York Times critic noticed this slideshow and the accompanying publication of the same name "powerfully depict the insufficiency of intimacy as a cure for a pervasive sense of individual isolation."[2] As her career progressed the American photographer's focus shifted form love to death that's portrayed in her 2002 The Devil Playground series. Yet again Nan Goldin turns to those on the margin and photographs AIDS patients, drug addicts, anorexic women and elderly people. The photographer powerfully highlights the fragility of human beings trough photographs of people who used to laugh, live and love but now lie bruised, hospitalized, dying or dead.[3] Through depictions of her personal life, Nan Goldin told the story about an entire generation.

Nan Goldin's use of photographs to portray the search for love and understanding is most proficiently depicted in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, currently on view at Museum of Modern art in New York.
Nan Goldin - Nan One Month after Being Battered

From Reading Prison to Museum of Modern Art in New York City

Recently Nan Goldin took part in a project that celebrates life and works of Oscar Wilde. The project entitled Inside explores the days that the celebrated author spent in prison following a two years long gross indecency sentence. Alongside her fellow creatives including Marlene Dumas, Steve McQueen, Wolfgang Tillmans and Ai Weiwei, the photographer presented several works that span over the prison cell where the celebrated author resided. One of her works is a massive photo collage entitled The Boys that features, Nan Goldin's friend and lover German actor Clemens Schick in the nude and seductive and provocative poses. The work conveys the emotions of obsession and lust and represents a reference to Oscar Wilde's relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, that got him the prison sentence he endured. Nan Goldin elaborated on her most recent work by saying that she "wanted to evoke that sense of Oscar falling hopelessly and obsessively for the wrong person. We’ve all done it, but for him, it had such devastating consequences."[4]. A video interview with a 91-year-old man who spent decades trying to get an apology from authorities for his own homosexuality conviction in the 1940s is another Nan Goldin's contribution to the project. Though the writer had a profound influence on the photographer, Nan Goldin believes that Oscar Wilde she knows and loves never resided in the Reading Prison cells “the Oscar Wilde I was so influenced by isn’t here. The openly gay, witty Oscar Wilde is not here – just as that part of him wasn’t evident in his writing from the prison. It’s like he disappeared into himself just to survive it.[5]

Inside project will last till October 30th, 2016 and will coincidences with Museum of Modern art survey exhibition dedicated to thirty years since the release of the American artist's celebrated The Ballad of Sexual Dependency series. In a time when alienation and visual communication is more common than ever, the exhibition that will remain on view until February 12th, 2017  in Museum of Modern Art New York still has the same freshness and the same appeal as it did in the time of its creation.

Nan Goldin - The Boy, 2016 via The Guardian

Nan Goldin was born in Boston in 1953
Nan Goldin - Dieter with the tulips, via

Nan Goldin - Jens' Hand On Clemens' Back, Paris, 2001


  1. Grundberg A. Photography View; Nan Goldin's Bleak Diary of the Urban Subculture, The New York Times [: December 21, 1986]
  2. Darwent C. The Devil's Playground by Nan Goldin , [January 11, 2004]
  3. McDermonaug D. Nan Goldin Wants You to Know She Didn’t Invent Instagram, The New York Times [August 15, 2016]
  4. O'Hagan S. Nan Goldin: banged up in Reading gaol with Oscar Wilde , The Guardian [September 5,2016]
  5. Ibid.

Featured images: A portrait of Nan Goldin ; Nan Goldin - Nan and Brian in bed, NYC. 1983 from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency ; Nan Goldin - Misty and Jimmy Paulette in a Taxi, NYC, 1991 ; Images via Museum of Modern art unless otherwise credited; All images use for illustrative purposes only

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