Drugs, Sex, Art: Nan Goldin

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. -Nan Goldin, interviewed by Adam Mazur and Paulina Skirgajilo-Krajewska

Joanna Laughing, 1991

Photography is one of those things I had to grow into. I never loved it, but now I LOVE it! It’s real: no one is stylized or idealized. It’s raw: yeah that line of meth in the background of the photo? Yeah, you can’t take that out (unless your super savvy with PhotoShop). It’s revealing: I remember when I felt that way with you, that kiss. It’s life: captured undeniably.

Nan Goldin (1953) is an American documentary photographer who captures her moments and the people she loves through her spontaneous and raw snapshots of her life. She is best known for her work depicting the underground world of  New York City and Boston through her photos of drag queen friends, her violent relationship with her ex boyfriends, and the slow, painful decent of the health of her AIDS inflicted friends, including her best friend Cookie.

After graduating from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1977, Goldin moved to New York City where she began documenting the post-punk, new-wave music scene, and the gay subculture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Capturing Bowery’s hard-drug subculture; these photographs, form her famous work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Depicting 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.

Photography saved my life. Every time I go through something scary, traumatic, I survive by taking pictures. -Goldin

Gotscho Kissing Gilles (Deceased), 1993

Nan and Brian in bed, New York City, 1983

Valerie and Gotscho embraced, Paris, 1999

Car With Smoke, New Hampshire, 1979

Goldin finds pain, love and distress. She is real, and I dig her shit. Her use of natural light doesn’t make anything artificial- it’s like your there. She reveals the people she loves and her work resonates deep when you see them in person. Today I got the chance to see some of her photography in, Unsettled: Photography and Politics in Contemporary Art. The exhibition presents nine artists all dealing with feminism, racism, the AIDS crisis, and gay activism. It is a small, but wonderful exhibition, and Goldin’s work definitely stood out to me.

 If I want to take a picture, I take it no matter what. -Goldin

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2 responses to “Drugs, Sex, Art: Nan Goldin

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