Nan Goldin Essays

Nan Goldin Essays-80
More and more, in an art setting, photography is used as a process to create abstract or self-consciously composed imagery, often as a component of a larger conceptual frame; it tends to present reality through metaphor, or by way of a signifier, rather than by straight documentation of subjects’ lives.So, yes, it may be fair to say that people no longer believe that a photograph in a gallery or museum or art book is true, precisely because they are no longer being asked to do so.

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The question, for the time being, seems almost irrelevant.

And so, the question of whether Goldin’s photos are True or not — by which one assumes she means (Photoshop aside) whether the images were made for the camera or were recorded in the midst of their natural unfolding by the virtue of a camera being present — feels like something of an afterthought.

¤ The book form of consists of 125 color photographs.

The dates of the pictures cover Goldin’s 20s, beginning in 1976, when she was 23 and living in Provincetown, studying photography at the Museum School in Boston, and continue through 1985, including seven years spent in New York City.

Ordered thematically and set into miniature chapters, the titles are almost all taken from songs Goldin uses in her slideshow (she began setting the photographs to music in 1982).

Her selection of song-based titles — leaning heavily on the Velvet Underground, but also including 1950s R&B and doo wop, blues, 1960s pop (“Downtown,” “Don’t Make Me Over”) and “Casta Divana” from a Bellini opera — though not as powerful without the actual music, add an element of lightly sardonic juxtaposition to certain sequences (if listened to with Paul Anka’s version of the song, “Lonely Boy,” a series of pictures of unsuspecting men by themselves, for example, is particularly funny) and dramatic tone to others.I have always believed that my photographs capture a moment that is real, without setting anything up.Now, it is so distressing: no one any longer believes that a photograph is real.Goldin’s camera (which also finds an equivalent in the book’s reoccurring motif of mirrors) simultaneously elicits and captures this, but mostly just epitomizes it, since, for people of a certain age or psychic disposition, the remove or idea of the camera is often present even when the mechanism is not.In some of the pictures, one can almost witness a deep sense of relief in Goldin’s friends, as some internal narrative suddenly aligns with outward validation — oh, their faces seem to say, to really be seen.She has always presented her work as a direct reflection of her circumstance, an adjunct to her memory (or, at times when she was too inebriated to remember anything, as a memory itself), a way to puncture the familial denial of her upbringing and breach silence on topics like drug use, physical abuse, sexuality and later, AIDS.But, whether due to the absolute saturation of diaristic images now in circulation on the Internet, or some other turn, the fact is that in the last few years, the rift has widened between the kind of snapshot, documentary-style photography Goldin champions and — except for certain perennial favorites — the majority of photography in contemporary art.Even if the answer were technically no, it would not render her accomplishment any less legitimate.Because the continuing resonance of is cumulative; it has much more to do with the way Goldin constructs a type of filmic fiction from her life (she has often referred to the pictures as stills from a nonexistent film) and in the way she is able — through style, editing, framing, color, (noticeably corrected in the new edition) — to make scenes that are sometimes indefinable, scenes that sometimes show the deep internalization and playing out, as well as countering, of gender archetypes by herself and her subjects, that often depict intense emotional pain, or unglamorous sex.Goldin has always conflated her life and her art though, and perhaps nowhere else as much as with this massive work, which loosely chronicles nine years of her life and that of her friends (in slide form it contains over 900 photographs and covers even more time).Her indignation is thus understandable, since to suspect that her photographs are somehow manipulated is to undermine their documentary value, and that , she suggests, their primary value.


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