Nan Goldin (1953) is an American fine-art and documentary photographer.She is represented by the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York.
Boston.Goldin was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in an upper-middle-class Jewish family in theAfter attending the nearby Lexington High School, she enrolled at the Satya Community School in Boston, where a teacher introduced her to the camera in 1968; Goldin was then fifteen years old. Her first solo show, held in Boston in 1973, was based on her photographic journeys among the city's gay and transsexual communities, to which she had been introduced by her friend David Armstrong.Goldin graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Tufts Univercity in 1977/1978, where she had worked mostly with Cibachrome prints.
Following graduation, Goldin moved to New York City.She began documenting the post-punk.She began documenting the post-Stonewall gay subculture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was drawn especially to the Bowery's hard-drug subculture; these photographs, taken between 1979 and 1986, form her famous work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency — a title taken from a song in Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera.These Snapshot Aesthetic images depict drug use, violent, aggressive couples and autobiographical moments. 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 on The Velvet Underground's The Velvet Underground and Nico album) 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; these frames are usually shot with available light.She has affectionately documented women looking in mirrors, girls in bathrooms and barrooms, drag queens, sexual acts, and the culture of obsession and dependency.
Goldin lives in the New York and Paris - one reason the French Pompidou Centre mounted a major retrospective of her work in 2002. Her hand was injured in a fall in 2002, 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 fully narrative score, and voiceover, and included the disturbing three-screen slide and video presentation Sisters, Saints, & Sybils. The work involved her sister Barbara's suicide and how she coped through a numerous amount of images and narratives. Her works are developing more and more into cinemaesque features, exemplifying her graviation towards working with films.
She was the recipient of the 2007 Hasselblad Award.
Some critics have accused her of making heroin-use appear glamorous, and of pioneering a grunge style that later became popularized by youth fashion magazines such as The Face and I-D.Goldin herself called the use of heroin-chic
Yes, photography saved my life. Every time I go through something scary, traumatic, I survive by taking pictures.
You also help other people to survive. Memory about them does not disappear, because they are on your pictures.
Yes. It is about keeping a record of the lives I lost, so they cannot be completely obliterated from memory. My work is mostly about memory. It is very important to me that everybody that I have been close to in my life I make photographs of them. The people are gone, like Cookie, who is very important to me, but there is still a series of pictures showing how complex she was. Because these pictures are not about statistics, about showing people die, but it is all about individual lives. In the case of New York, most creative and freest souls in the city died. New York is not New York anymore. I've lost it and I miss it. They were dying because of AIDS.
You decided to leave the United States because of the effect the AIDS epidemic had on the community of New York gay artists and writers?
I left America in 1991 to Europe. I went to Berlin partially because of that, and partially because one of my best friends, Alf Bold, was dying and I stayed with him and took care of him. He had nobody to take care of him. I mean, he had lots of famous friends, but he had nobody to take care of him on a daily basis. He was one of people who invented the Berlin film festival. This was also the time when my Paris photo dealer Gilles died of AIDS. He had the most radical gallery in the city. He did not tell anybody in Europe that he has AIDS, because the attitude here was so different than in the United States. There was no ACT UP in Paris, and in 1993 it looked very much like in the US in the 1950s. Now it has changed, but at that time people in Europe told me: 'Oh, we do not need ACT UP. We have very good hospitals'.
Your art is basically socially engaged...
It is very political. First, it is about gender politics. It is about what it is to be male, what it is to be female, what are gender roles... Especially The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is very much about gender politics, before there was such a word, before they taught it at the university. A friend of mine said I was born with a feminist heart. I decided at the age of five that there was nothing my brothers can do and I cannot do. I grew up that way. It was not like an act of decision that I was going to make a piece about gender politics. I made this slideshow about my life, about my past life. Later, I realized how political it was. It is structured this way so it talks about different couples, happy couples. For me, the major meaning of the slideshow is how you can become sexually addicted to somebody and that has absolutely nothing in common with love. It is about violence, about being in a category of men and women. It is constructed so that you see all different roles of women, then of children, the way children are brought up, and these roles, and then men, then it shows a lot of violence. That kind of violence the men play with. It goes to clubs, bars, it goes to prostitution as one of the options for women - prostitution or marriage. Then it goes back to the social scene, to married and re-married couples, couples having sex, it ends with twin graves.Could you please tell us something about the people, the artists who have influenced your art?
My biggest influences are my friends. Bruce was one of first persons that introduced me to slide shows in the 1970s. I started doing slide shows because I left school. During school I went to live in Provincetown, a gay resort three hours away from Boston. It is the farthest point in America's east coast. It is beautiful. It is a little community of artists. Norman Mailer lives there. A lot of painters and writers live there. In the 1970s it was really wild with Waters, Cookie, Sharon, and Sharon's son. It was incredibly wild. Later everything has completely changed. In Provincetown we used to live in small groups. I took lots of pictures of my friends, like "Bruce in the snow". I've known Bruce since 1972. We lived together with Bruce, Sharon, and Cookie. I was at the School at the Museum of Fine Arts. Those days the school was that teachers sat in the parking lot and drank. Literally. This was before the 1980s. We were told that we will never make any money on art. Now, the students that I teach, at Yale particularly, all they want to know is what gallery they could have a show in or could I help them to get a show. They go right from the graduate school to the big galleries. It is all a career move. When I went to art school, I never heard of Artforum. Never. I took classes in Russian literature, in Faulkner, whom I love. I took writing classes, I took the history of film, I took drawing to be able to see better, because many photographers cannot see anything.
I actually became very influenced by Rothko. I love the work of Richard Todd, but I cannot say he was an influence. Anything that I see and I love is an influence, but I never try to replicate somebody else, like I never tried to make a Rothko. I love Caravaggio, but I never studied Caravaggio. I never made any Caravaggios. Some of my pictures of boys having sex, they have the same sense of light as Caravaggio. Caravaggio also knew all the people that he painted. They were his lovers or hustlers. Pasolini used boys from the street that he loved that he desired. Fassbinder only used people he knew. Cassavetes used the same people over and over, so I am not the first one to do that, but I think that people have forgotten how radical my work was in the 1980s, when I started, because nobody was doing work like that. Now, so many people have done work like that like Wolfgang Tillmans, Juergen Teller, Corinne DayÉ Now people think I am just one of many who've done that. They do not understand that The Ballad of Sexual Dependency was so radical when it came out.
I was very influenced by film, because I did not go to high school. I went to the movies. Sometimes I went to the movies two or three times per day. I saw every movie from the 1940s and the 1950s. I saw every movie where all those goddesses were... Every movie with Marlena Dietrich, every movie with Bette Davies, every movie with Barbara Stanwyck, every movie with Marilyn Monroe. Then I saw an enormous amount of Italian movies with Antonioni, Pasolini, de SicaÉ I was very influenced by Cassavetes. When I am influenced, unlike many other contemporary photographers, I would never take a scene from the movie. I was very influenced by Fassbinder and Kie¦lowski. I saw his "Ten Commandments." How do you pronounce his name? Yes, he is very important to me. Also Fassbinder was important. I saw all his works.Did you make any movies?
Yes, I made two documentaries. "I'll Be Your Mirror" was made with the BBC. It is about my life. The other was made with Joana and Aurele. It is about AIDS and it is called "Ballad at the Morgue." He has AIDS and she does not. It is about a couple, about a relation of a couple, where one person is HIV-positive and the other is not. The film has only been shown in Turin.
What about music?
Yes, it is very important to me. Now, I am very influenced by Nick Cave. He saved my life, literally.
Some of your pictures are blurred. You did it on purpose?
Actually, I take blurred pictures, because I take pictures no matter what the light is. If I want to take a picture, I do not care if there is light or no light. If I want to take a picture, I take it no matter what. Sometimes I use very low shutter speed and they come out blurred, but it was never an intention like David Armstrong started to do what we call, he and I, "Fuzzy-wuzzy landscapes." He looked at the back of my pictures and studied them. He started to take pictures like them without people in them. They are just out of focus landscapes. He actually did it, intentionally threw the camera out of focus. I have never done it in my life. I take pictures like in here when there is no sun or light that I think all my pictures are going to be out of focus. Even Valerie and Bruno and whatever I take, because there is not enough light, and so I use a very low shutter speed. It used to be because I was drunk, but now I am not. The drugs influenced all my life. Both good and bad. I heard about an artist in Poland, Witkacy, who wrote down on his paintings all the drugs he was on. Depending how many drugs he took, that is how much he charged for the portrait. I saw his portrait at the National Museum, a kind of German expressionism, and I loved it.
Interview by Adam Mazur and Paulina Skirgajllo-Krajewska 13 Fabruary 2003 Warsaw.