Text by Abby Harris, Copyright 2021
Nan Goldin: Immersion and Trust
Trust is a required element for any documentary photographer to have with their subject. Nan Goldin and her work is an excellent representation of that trust. Nan Goldin was born in Washington D.C in 1953 Goldin began her career in photography in 1973 but it was in 1968 when she was first shown how to use a camera. From the very beginning Nan has been dealing with difficult/controversial topics in her life and her work.
While growing up Nan was aware of her sister’s struggle with repressing her sexuality and the pain it caused her and in turn in 1965 Nan’s older sister took her own life after struggling for years. After her sister’s death and her introduction to photography Nan began right away to use the camera for change. In her first solo exhibition Nan chose to cover the lives of gay and transgender people in Boston. Highlighting and living within this community became a running theme for Goldin and lead to her most famous work “ The Ballad of Sexual Dependency”. These photos are a still documentary of the LGBTQ community post stonewall in New York City. Drugs addiction, the AIDS epidemic, sex, and relationships are all shown in “ The Ballad of Sexual Dependecny”, yet these photos were not only taken to bring awareness they are also autobiographical. Nan immersed herself in this neighborhood, watched and made art out of her and her friends’ struggles. This is not to say she was taking advantage of her subjects’ pain, she lived it with them, experienced it with them, grieved with them.
Continuing with her love of drag queens and the LGBTQ commuity Nan traveled to Bangkok and shot “ Yogo Putting on Powder”. Their is a sense of calm in this photograph, like Nan is not even there. This is just a testament to the trust and bond that Nan builds with her subjects and how she makes her art. One can almost imagine the conversation they might have had and the ease they both were feeling. The atmosphere of the room feels transformational, the movement at the left edge of the frame, the act of putting one’s makeup on, drag queens themselves. The casual outfit of Yogo while they are mid-powder emphasizes the feeling of transformation and the stages of it. Even though Nan is a documentarian, one can tell the thought she puts into each photo. All of the costumes, color, and shine in the background of this photo gives it depth but it doesn’t take away from Yogo and her simple act of putting on makeup. The balance of elements makes everything visually appealing to the audience. The lighting perfectly highlights Yogo’s skin and the feeling of comfort they must feel around Nan to let her photograph them like this. Nan has the ability to show the beauty, and simple things within underrepresented communities. “And to show them with a lot of respect and love, to kind of glorify them because I really admire people who recreate themselves and who manifest their fantasies publicly. I think it’s really brave. I just really have so much love and respect and attraction for the queens. So I don’t like her stripping them and exposing them according to her own preconceptions of who they are”. Nan throughout her career has shown a love and appreciation for every community she has photographed and the viewer can feel that through every photo.
About The Author: Abby Harris is a sophomore enrolled at Bryn Mawr College, Class of 2023. To access additional articles by Abby Harris, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/abby-harris-floral-sunset-2/