Digital Photography: Nan Goldin

This is Nan Goldin after her boyfriend beat her. There’s a raw quality to all of Goldin’s work, an exposure that is leaked through the eyes of her subjects. In this case, she was her own subject. Notice the pain in her eyes and the red lipstick that emphasizes the blood in her eye. 

Goldin was born in September of 1953 in Washington DC by the name of Nancy Goldin.

In order to fully understand the state of mind of Goldin and her subjects, you have to understand the era that she photographed. Goldin did much of her work during the 1970s through the 1990s, much of when the AIDS epidemic was in full swing. Drugs were rampant and she herself was institutionalized for drug abuse. She began using heroin in her teens after she ran away from her well-to-do Jewish family. Goldin used her camera to capture the essence of the times. Her work is often described as a “familiar staple of the romantic mythology of urban bohemia” (Mia Fineman, ArtNet).


This is Goldin in drug rehab. You can see her attitude as she grabs the pillow with the clinic’s logo. 


This piece is called Brian’s Face and it was taken in Berlin in 1984. Brian was Goldin’s boyfriend who beat her in the first photograph that I shared.


One fact about Goldin that really stands out to me is that she seems to photograph other people who have a similar life to her’s. She captures the essence of not just the times, but of her life. It’s like she’s pleading with viewers to understand and accept her. I feel a sense of pity for Goldin.


This is a very famous piece. Nan is shown in bed while Brian smokes a cigarette. The orange light seems to emphasize a dimming relationship between the lovers.

More pieces from her famous Ballad of Sexual Dependency Collection:



Goldin did much of her work in New York of her “dysfunctional New York family” (Drusilla Beyfrus, The Telegraph). She’s also snapped shots in Italy, Greece and all over the world.

Goldin claims that her mentor Larry Clark, the acclaimed American documentary artist, helped set her in motion. She attributes much to him and his assistance. Also evident in her work is her raw emotion and loss. Her sister, Barbara, committed suicide and Goldin was deeply affected.

When it comes to Goldin’s style, she has a flair for those emotional moments of her friends in bed or at clubs. She likes little lighting and uses the darkness to show her world, a sort of underworld if you will. Her shots are not constructed, but in my opinion, that’s what really makes the photographs so raw. 

Her passion began when she attended a wild school in England with little rules. She said that students would run around naked and have sex all the time. She met a student named David who looked like a woman and she began to photograph their escapades. After high school, they moved in together in Boston with a group of drag queens. Goldin became the resident photographer for her drag queen friends at the local mafia ran bar every night.

She didn’t have a dark room so she would get her photographs developed at the local drugstore. Her images returned to her as snapshots on a single sheet which sparked her passion for the snapshot style.

Goldin affirms that her images show real life. I believe her images are important because they share insight to a world that so many are lost to. Her images breathe through the essence of the lost.

“Snapshots are the only form of photography completely inspired by love.” -Nan Goldin 



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