NAN GOLDIN: THE BALLAD OF SEXUAL DEPENDENCY
The artist captures the essence of humanity and life on the edge
by Ellie Howard
A life lived through the lens is a haunting one; filled with the highs of addiction and the darkest depths of abuse, caught in an endless cycle of destruction. Nan Godin’s photography is more akin to a form of love than documentation. She photographs her inner circle; abused angels that have fallen into the gutters, seeking solace in society’s collection of outcasts. Existing within a maelstrom of physical violence, betrayal and intimacy, they struggle through their opiate haze to connect to their surroundings. Uncompromisingly confessional, her work is an autobiographical account of her life – capturing the dark romanticism of lower-east side bohemia. Through a series of naked snapshots, she photographs the essence of the human spirit; the soul laid bare.
The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
Set within the glitzy squalor of downtown New York, the “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” documents life on the urban fringe. Originally a 45- minute multimedia presentation, the piece was set to the tunes of the Velvet Underground and Nina Simone. After the suicide of her elder sister, she ran away from home aged 14. Moving in and out of the punk club scene, in-between foster homes and communes, feeding an addiction, she searched for a place to belong. Her “tribe” of drag queens and romanticized junkies, are photographed partying, getting high, and getting sober, fighting and fucking. A young Goldin starts to experiment with sexuality, life plays out in a dramatized series of events; in a delirious sequence of sordid bars and rumpled beds.
The Devils Playground
The scenes of drug addiction and carnal desire that Goldin photographed religiously in the late 70’s and early 80’s, began to fade into a more somber reflection of loss, in the decade of AIDS related deaths. The once visceral passion became violent, self-harming. In this period, she meets Brian, an abusive boyfriend who beat her savagely. In her critically acclaimed self-portrait taken in 1984, her face is purple and swollen beyond recognition.
Goldin is the shadowy figure present from bedside to grave, tenderly photographing the pallid faces ravaged by illness. The immediacy of her work is her attempt to record every fleeting moment. In her documentary ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ 1996 she soulfully laments “I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough… infact my pictures show me how much I have lost”.
Eden and After
Goldin is the queen of the hard-core subculture of the 80’s and 90’s, so her latest series is a little hard to grasp, “Eden and After” examines the innocence of childhood. With the same tenderness that she photographed the dying, Goldin documents the trajectory of child, from birth to pre-pubescence. Having always photographed her friends and lovers, she now turns her lens on to the next generation. Her presence is always felt within every image, as though the camera was not present during its conception. The sense of trust is palpable, Goldin is interested in the complexity of the human subject “Kids are sad, too, and angry… that wildness in children that gets hammered down as they grow up."
The seductive surface of her images, and the frank honesty of her portraits have no overlay of moral questioning. We feel the same pain as Goldin’s ‘lost boys’ do, we connect in the moments of introspection and solitude. The world is filled with people alone with their pain, drug addictions and disease. Goldin reminds us that its alright to be vulnerable, that at the end of the day, when all is said and done, the only thing you have left is your integrity.
All images courtesy of Nan Goldin
Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency Exhibition is on view currently to February 12th, 2017 @ The Museum of Modern Art.
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