It's nearly impossible to envision photographer Nan Goldin's work without thinking of her life and its rich cast of characters — the friends, lovers, drag queens, transvestites and party-goers who casually found themselves at the behest of her
It's nearly impossible to envision photographer Nan Goldin's work without thinking of her life and its rich cast of characters — the friends, lovers, drag queens, transvestites and party-goers who casually found themselves at the behest of her lens. Here pictures form a kind of private photo album, giving the viewer the feeling that they are voyeurs as much as Goldin's work appears to be. Her raw, intimate, intense and seemingly spontaneous aesthetic has been a strong reference and precursor to the movement of youthful, spontaneous, voyeuristic and unabashedly intimate photography that has been championed by the likes of Ryan McGinley.
Photographing her hard-partying circle of friends had become a way for her to, perhaps, hold onto the present, to preserve a life in pictures. By the late eighties, many of her friends were dying of the still relatively new disease, AIDS, but she continued to shoot her friends as they struggled, lending their honest fear and thoughts to Goldin's work. Around this time, in 1991, she spent a year in Berlin on a DAAD grant, sponsored by an organisation that brings artists to Berlin. The Berlinische Galerie is presenting, with around 100 previously unpublished photographs, a look into Goldin's Berlin work and, consequently, her life at that time.
In her youth, she attended the Satya Community school in Massachusetts where she became fast friends with photographers David Armstrong and Suzanne Fletcher, with whom she would dress up in pseudo drag and take each other's pictures in work foreshadowed her later subject matter.
Beatings, heavy drug use, smudged lipstick; a strong subculture and a seemingly perverted came to express the life of the group and a large part of Goldin's work. Taken between 1979 and 1986, these images came to be known as The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Her work based on New York's Bowery scene, came to form two other series, I'll Be Your Mirror and All By Myself. In 1994, she collaborated with Armstrong on A Double Life, a book composed of photographs taken by Armstrong and Goldin of the same subject, including portraits they took of each other.
Goldin's work hints to us the beauty of the small, insignificant moments that, on paper, may seem unextraordinary and banal, lending it a kind of magic. After all, in the end, much like her subjects, we all want the same things, don't we?
Nan Goldin, Berlin Work, Photographs 1984 to 2009 at Berlinische Galerie, Berlin until 28 March 2011
Text by Michael Kowalinski