Sunday, 19 April 2009

Nan Goldin

I first saw Nan Goldin's photography when I was in my teens. I can't remember what the book was called but I remember we weren't allowed to take it out of the library and that it was too big for me to sneak into my bag...

The photos jumped off the page and into my consciousness- I was utterly mesmerised by them. Snap shots of glamorous drag queens, young people in the prime of their life having fun, screwing around, partying and taking drugs. A world completely removed from the suburban, respectable Asian upbringing I was used to. These people seemed like movie stars to me- a world away and exciting. The deeper I delved into the book and the more and more I looked at the photographs I realised that underneath the veneer of the make-up, the glamour, the party, Nan Goldin managed to capture the vulnerability of her subjects. It was this vulnerability that I found most interesting- these people weren’t sleek, air brushed models or actors preened to look or pose a certain way. Nan’s subjects were people encompassing every feeling and emotion which made up a real person- they could me, they could be you. At the click of Nan’s camera her subjects were themselves, no one else. Posed or otherwise, what she captured was real.

She took photographs of herself after she had just been physically abused by her boyfriend. In one particular photo an ugly, purple and red swelling dominated her bloodshot eye- it was a shocking photograph but something I couldn't take my eyes off. I always thought you took photos of happy occasions but I as I held the photograph to my face her swollen eye in line with mine the photo stuck in my mind- she wanted to be reminded of what he did to her. The photos of her battered and bruised were juxtaposed with photos of people having sex- it was a real mind fuck which kicked the innocence right out of me. By the 90's most of her friends who had featured in her work had passed away through either AIDs related illnesses or drug overdoses. This she also captured in her documentary style. She was close friends with Cookie Mueller the writer and actress who featured in John Water's early films with Divine. Nan Goldin documented Mueller's husband's funeral after he had passed away from AIDs and a few months later documented Mueller's own funeral when she passed away from the same illness. I was struck by the love she obviously had for her friends in the way in which she photographed their happier times up until their moment of passing. The book was like a story with a beginning, middle and end. You went on a journey with Goldin and her photo subjects, soaking in every photo memory she shared with you.

Here is a short documentary of Goldin talking about her work.




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