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Nan Goldin

American Photographer

Nan Goldin Photo

Born: September 12, 1953 - Washington, D.C., United States

"My desire is to preserve the sense of people's lives, to endow them with the strength and beauty I see in them. I want the people in my pictures to stare back."

Summary of Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin is a contemporary American photographer who became famous in the 1980s for her gritty, intimate, often chaotic images of friends, lovers, and herself in the Boston queer and party scenes of the time. Her most famous body of work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency has become an invaluable record of a creative community soon to be torn apart by the AIDS crisis - with many of the artist's photographs now haunting memorials of friends and lovers lost to the disease.

Since the 1980s Nan Goldin has changed the nature of art and documentary photography. By taking her camera everywhere she goes and shooting intimate photographs of otherwise invisible, underground moments in her community, she has turned photography of everyday people, of parties, of sexual moments, and private events into something important and worthy of attention - exhibiting in major galleries around the world.

In later work, Goldin's photographs are placed alongside images of famous works by Old Masters in the Louvre. Here, she expands her interest in desire, violence, and looking to encompass the Western history of art and image-making, and shows viewers that these interests have always been important to us, whilst also unsettling the languages of desire in paintings by male artists, through her own complex visions of sexuality, gender, and intimacy.

Key Ideas

Nan Goldin is part of 'The Boston School', with her friends Mark Morrisroe and David Armstrong. This group, and particularly Goldin herself, is known for completely changing documentary and art photography, particularly portraiture, by opening up the possibilities for un-posed, badly lit, grainy, and hurriedly composed images to be accepted into galleries, books and art schools, privileging intimate, authentic images over technical expertise.
Although Goldin is famous for gritty, "in the moment" photographs, a lot of her portraits, particularly self-portraits are carefully posed. In each of these photographs she does something new and exciting with "the gaze" of her subjects - the various gazes taking place between photographer, subject, and viewer. Laura Mulvey wrote about the "male gaze" in which images of women are produced by men for male pleasure. And, in Ways of Seeing (1972), John Berger describes various ways that people in images look at each other, and at the viewer, as a way to read power dynamics in painting and popular culture, stating that women are presented to be looked at, while men do the looking. Goldin's photographs upheave these traditional representations, by inviting viewers to share her erotic gaze towards a naked man, or staring straight out at the viewer confrontationally. Her photographs are extremely important challenges to traditional power relations as they are played out in images in art and everyday life.
Goldin predominately photographs people living lives considered by many to be improper or illegitimate - drag queens, clubbers, drug-takers, and people from the LGBTQIA community are all sensitively and empathetically portrayed and exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, including the Louvre. Goldin has helped a broader public to understand that universal human experiences of desire, love, violence, and death are shared between all of us, and to foster understanding between mainstream and subcultural societies.
Nan Goldin Photo

Nan Goldin was Born in Washington, D.C. and raised by middle-class Jewish parents in the suburbs of Lexington. Goldin's father worked in broadcasting and served as chief economist for the Federal Communications Commission. When Goldin was only eleven, her 19-year-old sister, Barbara, committed suicide. In 1965, teenage suicide was a taboo subject and people didn't talk about issues of mental health, especially amongst young people. Even as a child, Goldin realized the role sexual repression, gendered expectations of conduct, and mental illness played in the death of her sister, who had been confused about her sexuality and often got into "trouble with boys", rejecting social expectations of ladylike behaviour. This early realisation influenced Goldin's photographs of friends and lovers who similarly do not fit into society's expectations of who they should be.

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