Nan Goldin

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Nan Goldin
Nan Goldin.jpg
Nan Goldin, 2009
Born (1953-09-12) September 12, 1953 (age 63)
Washington D.C., United States
Nationality American
Known for Photography
Notable work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986)

Edward MacDowell Medal
Hasselblad Award

French Legion of Honor

Nancy "Nan" Goldin (born September 12, 1953) is an American photographer. She lives and works in New York City, Berlin, and Paris.[1] She is known for her work, which usually features LGBT-related themes, images or public figures.[2]

Life and work[edit]

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986). The image on the cover is "Nan and Brian in Bed" (1981).
Nan Goldin, The Hug, NYC, 1980, cibachrome, 40 × 30 inches
Nan Goldin, Misty and Jimmy Paulette in a Taxi, NYC, 1991, 30 × 40 inches

Goldin was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in the Boston suburb of Lexington, to middle-class Jewish parents. Goldin’s father worked in broadcasting, and served as the chief economist for the Federal Communications Commission.[3] After attending the nearby Lexington High School, Goldin left home at 13-14. She enrolled at the Satya Community School in Lincoln, where a teacher, philosopher Rollo May’s daughter introduced her to the camera in 1968. Goldin was then fifteen years old. Goldin’s need to photograph and express herself to the world was stemmed from her older sister, Barbara’s, suicide when she was only 11 years old. Struggling from such a horrific loss, Goldin went through a stage of using drugs to help her cope, until she fell in love with the camera, which changed her life forever. It was through her photography that Goldin found meaning, and she cherished the relationships of those she photographed. She also found the camera as a useful political tool, in order to inform the public about important issues silenced in America (O'Hagan, Sean. "Nan Goldin: 'I Wanted to Get High from a Really Early Age'") Her early influences were Andy Warhol's early films, Federico Fellini, Jack Smith, French and Italian Vogue, Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton.[4]

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. While living in downtown Boston at age 18, Goldin “fell in with the drag queens,” living with them and photographing them.[5] 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”.[5] 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”.[5] Goldin describes her life as being completely immersed in the queens’. However, after she went to the school of Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, 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, Boston/Tufts University in 1977/1978, where she had worked mostly with Cibachrome prints. Her work from this period is associated with the Boston School of photography.[6]

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 famous work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency — a title taken from a song in Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera.[7] Published 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”. The photographs show a transition through Goldin’s travels and her life.[8] 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.[9] 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."[10] 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 & 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. The images are viewed like a private journal made public.[11] 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 famous photographs 'Nan One Month After Being Battered, 1984' as an iconic image which she uses to reclaim her identity and her life.[12]

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.[13]

Nan Goldin, Christmas at the Other Side, Boston, 1972, gelatin-silver print, 16 × 20 inches

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 three-screen slide and video presentation Sisters, Saints, & Sybils which has been described as disturbing.[citation needed] The work involved her sister Barbara's suicide and how she coped through production of numerous images and narratives. Her works are developing more and more into cinemaesque features, exemplifying her gravitation towards working with films.[14]

Goldin has undertaken commercial fashion photography – for Australian label Scanlan & Theodore's spring/summer 2010 campaign, shot with model Erin Wasson; for Italian luxury label Bottega Veneta's spring/summer 2010 campaign with models Sean O'Pry and Anya Kazakova, evoking memories of her Ballad of Sexual Dependency;[15] for shoemaker Jimmy Choo in 2011 with model Linda Vojtova;[16] and for Dior in 2013, 1000 LIVES, featuring Robert Pattinson.[17]


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. However, in a 2002 interview with The Observer, Goldin herself called the use of "heroin chic" to sell clothes and perfumes "reprehensible and evil."[18] Goldin admits to having a romanticized image of drug culture at a young age, but she soon saw the error in this ideal, “I had a totally romantic notion of being a junkie. I wanted to be one.” Goldin’s substance usage stopped after she became intrigued with the idea of memory in her work, “When people talk about the immediacy in my work, that’s what its about: this need to remember and record every single thing” [19] Goldin's interest in drugs stemmed from a sort of rebellion against parental guidance that parallels her decision to run away from home at a young age, "I wanted to get high from a really early age. I wanted to be a junkie. That's what intrigues me. Part was the Velvet Underground and the Beats and all that stuff. But, really, I wanted to be as different from my mother as I could and define myself as far as possible from the suburban life I was brought up in." [20]


An exhibition of Goldin's work was censored in Brazil, two months before opening, due to its sexually explicit nature.[21] The main reason was the photographs containing sexual acts next to children.[21] In Brazil, there is a law that prohibits the image of minors associated with pornography.[22] The sponsor of the exhibition, a cellphone company, claimed to be unaware of the content of Goldin's work and that there was a conflict between the work and its educational project. The curator of the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Modern Art changed the schedule in order to accommodate, in February 2012, the Goldin exhibition in Brazil.[23]



Portrayal in film[edit]

The photographs by the character Lucy Berliner, played by actress Ally Sheedy in the 1998 film High Art, were based on those by Goldin.[30]

The photographs shown in the film, "Working Girls," (directed by Lizzie Borden, 1986) as taken by the lead character "Molly," were actually those of Nan Goldin.[31]


Books by Goldin[edit]

Books with contributions by Goldin[edit]

Selected solo exhibitions[edit]

Exhibitions curated[edit]


  1. ^ a b Nan Goldin: Scopophilia, March 21 - May 24, 2014 Gagosian Gallery, Rome.
  2. ^ Burton, Johanna. "Nan Goldin". Retrieved Jan 2016.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. ^ Deborah Solomon (October 9, 1996), Nan Goldin: Scenes From the Edge Wall Street Journal.
  4. ^ Westfall, Stephen (1991). "Nan Goldin" (Interview). BOMB Magazine. BOMB Magazine. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c Westfall, Stephen. "The Ballad of Nan Goldin." BOMB No. 37 (1991): 27-31.JSTOR. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.
  6. ^ "Emotions and Relations: Photographs by David Armstrong, Nan Goldin, Philip Lorca DiCorcis, Mark Morrisroe, and Jack Pierson". photo-eye. Taschen. Archived from the original on April 25, 2015. 
  7. ^ Brecht, Bertolt. "Three Penny Opera." Act II, song 12.
  8. ^ Goldin, Nan; Heiferman, Marvin; Holborn, Mark; Fletcher, Suzanne (2012). The ballad of sexual dependency. New York City: Aperture Foundation. ISBN 978-1-59711-208-6. 
  9. ^ Curley, Mallory. A Cookie Mueller Encyclopedia, Randy Press, 2010.
  10. ^ Tillman, Lynne. The New York Times. "A New Chapter of Nan Goldin's Diary." 16 November 2003.
  11. ^ Nan Goldin at Pa. Academy of Fine Arts, BLOUINARTINFO, September 11, 2007, retrieved 2008-04-23 
  12. ^ Bright, Susan (2010). Auto focus : the self-portrait in contemporary photography (1st American ed.). [New York]: Monacelli Press. ISBN 978-1-58093-300-1. 
  13. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (2014-03-22). "Nan Goldin: 'I wanted to get high from a really early age'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-02-16. 
  14. ^ Robert Ayers (March 27, 2006), Nan Goldin, BLOUINARTINFO, retrieved 2008-04-23 
  15. ^ Ann Binlot (January 3, 2012), Bottega Veneta Taps Jack Pierson for Latest Arty Ad Campaign BLOUINARTINFO.
  16. ^ Ann Binlot (October 18, 2011), The Ballad of Shoe Dependency: Nan Goldin Shoots a New Ad Campaign for Jimmy Choo BLOUINARTINFO.
  17. ^ "Robert Pattinson Confirmed As New Face of Dior BY CHARLOTTE COWLES". Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  18. ^ Sheryl Garratt (January 6, 2002), The dark room, Guardian News and Media Limited, retrieved 2010-03-08, I never took pictures of people doing heroin to sell clothes. And I have a bit of a problem with it. Like this Dior campaign right now, where the girl is really dope-sick then she sprays Addiction perfume and suddenly she's high. I find that really reprehensible and evil. 
  19. ^ Goldin admits, “I had a totally romantic notion of being a junkie. I wanted to be one.” Goldin’s substance usage stopped after she became intrigued with the idea of memory in her work, “When people talk about the immediacy in my work, that’s what its about: this need to remember and record every single thing.”
  20. ^ 2014,Sean O'Hagan,"The Guardian","Nan Goldin:"I wanted to get high from a really early age."
  21. ^ a b Roberta Pennafort (30 November 2011). "Cancelamento de exposição no Rio deixa artista norte-americana chocada". Estadão (in Portuguese). Rio de Janeiro. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  22. ^ "L10764" (in Portuguese). Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  23. ^ Martí, Silas (29 November 2011). "Oi Futuro cancela mostra da artista Nan Goldin no Rio". Folha de S. Paulo (in Portuguese). São Paulo. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  24. ^ Nan Goldin Matthew Marks Gallery, New York/Los Angeles.
  25. ^ Nan Goldin, Hasselblad Foundation, 2007, retrieved 2010-03-08 
  26. ^ Hasselblad Award Citation (PDF), Hasselblad Foundation, March 8, 2007, retrieved 2010-03-08 
  27. ^ Meghan Pierce(June 9, 2012), MacDowell will honor Nan Goldin New Hampshire Union Leader.
  28. ^ "Medal Day History". MacDowell Colony. Retrieved 20 November 2015. 
  29. ^ "MacDowell Medal winners 1960-2011". London: The Daily Telegraph. 13 April 2011. Retrieved 20 November 2015. 
  30. ^ Lisa Cholodenko's icy 'High Art' turns from chic comedy to humiliation
  31. ^ from the audio commentary by Lizzie Borden on the DVD of "Working Girls."

External links[edit]