Nan Goldin

Artist biography

American photographer. Goldin began taking photographs as a teenager in Boston, MA. Her earliest works, black-and-white images of drag queens, were celebrations of the subcultural lifestyle of the community to which she belonged. During a period of study at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, she began displaying her work in the format of a slide-show, a constantly evolving project that acquired the title (appropriated from The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht) The Ballad of Sexual Dependency in 1981. This collection of images had a loose thematic structure and was usually shown with an accompanying sound-track, first in the clubs where many of the images were taken and then within gallery spaces. In the 1990s Goldin continued to produce portraits of drag queens, but also made images of friends who were dying of AIDS and recorded her experiences travelling in Asia. The latter resulted in a book and exhibition, Tokyo Love: Spring Fever 1994, a collaboration with the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. In this collection of portraits Goldin found a strong equivalent for her Western community in the East.

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When Nan Goldin’s photo book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was released, her boyfriend Brian was deeply embarrassed. He didn’t want to be identified as the one who had “battered” Nan in the iconic self-portait (taken at her request by Suzanne Fletcher) that depicts her as the victim of domestic violence—the photo is raw and unsettling, but also hard to tear yourself away from. “Nan, One Month After Being Battered” (1984) is a visceral print that is confrontational and may upset some viewers, but it needs to be seen. Goldin didn’t name her attacker in the title (though I wish she had), but this image lives on in its own right. Regardless of who committed the crime, we are all witnesses to its effects—we all see the uneven bruising on her face and the blood-red eyeball staring back at us.

In this instance we have a self portrait that is using blood and bruising from a beating to inform the viewer. The image itself is neutral, but the view is being asked to superimpose their own beliefs on top of the image. The addition of the bruising is an addition to the flat featureless bland portrait.

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