Even if she doesn't "do Nan Goldin," Goldin's photographs have become iconic images partially because of the raw honesty with which she approaches her subjects, including, yes, Goldin herself. One of her best known pictures is a self-portrait, taken after her then-boyfriend Brian violently abused her. The photograph of Goldin, staring directly into the camera, with both eyes blackened, has become one of her most widely reproduced images.
Goldin's work will be the subject of a show at the 40th anniversary of the Recontres d'Arles photography festival in France. The exhibit will include Goldin's most famous piece, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a slide show of images from Goldin's life taken from the 1970s to the 1990s. The Ballad documents her relationship with Brian, including the emotional and physical abuse she suffered. The series also includes pictures of her "family," as she calls her group of friends from the 1980s, many of whom are now deceased. Her 2004 video, Sisters, Saints & Sybils, which explores her reactions to her sister Barbara's suicide at the age of 18, will also be on view.
The bulk of Goldin's work focuses on her friends and family, for she finds herself unwilling to depict people she does not intimately know. In her interview with the Telegraph, she says, "I realised a long time ago that outside of commercial work I would never photograph anyone that I didn't want to live with. I didn't think anyone had the right to photograph a stranger." Instead, Goldin photographs her friends and lovers, something she has been doing since the age of 15, when she first picked up a camera to shoot her group of drag queens and "outsiders." During her long career, Goldin has become familiar with controversy—including accusations that one of her images, owned by Sir Elton John, borders on child pornography—but Goldin continues to defend the brutal honesty of her work, which is one of the things that makes it so moving and remarkable:
"I was one of the first people, at least in the Western world, to photograph my entourage and say that it was as valid as photographing any exotic tribe you don't know. We were the world to each other. We were not marginalized people as everyone writes of us: outsiders, drug addicts, prostitutes, transvestites, blah, blah. It was our world."
Nan Goldin: Unafraid Of The Dark [Telegraph]