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Why Nan Goldin focused on children in her new book

In an accompanying essay the Italian writer Guido Costa offers insight into the inspiration behind Eden and After

The Italian writer and curator Guido Costa is a close friend of Nan Goldin's. He features in her photographs; she introduced his daughter to photography; and he wrote a long and insightful essay, entitled Bambini, to accompany Nan's new book, Eden and After.

In part, he explains why Nan, an American photographer so closely associated with adult material, alighted on children for her latest book.

 

Ava twirling, NYC, 2007, by Nan Goldin
Ava twirling, NYC, 2007, by Nan Goldin

We can't excerpt the whole thing here, though it really is a great read. However, here are some edited highlights, which we hope illuminate this great collection of work and answer some of the questions you may have before buying it. We join Guido as he attempts to answer the obvious question: Why children?

"What is it that ties Nan, a woman with no children of her own, so profoundly to the world of childhood that it has grown into one of her major photographic obsessions, resulting in hundreds of pictures?

Isabella and Guido’s game, the statue, Sardinia, 2003, by Nan Goldin
Isabella and Guido’s game, the statue, Sardinia, 2003, by Nan Goldin

"It would be easy to slip into the simplistic clichés, analyzing this body of work as a surrogate for motherhood, or to see this obsession of hers as an attempt to reconnect, through the channel of art, with childhood, a realm of immediacy and truth. In both cases, I believe, one would be indulging in a degree or romanticism that is completely foreign to the overall tone of Nan Goldin's work, which is, above all, one of realism and political engagement, never of rhetoric or cheap sentiment.

Io in camouflage, NYC, 1994, by Nan Goldin
Io in camouflage, NYC, 1994, by Nan Goldin

"Nan has often referred to children as aliens who posses a unique wisdom and second sight. In our conversations, she has said that children are born with a consciousness of another existence. But as they grow they forget it, adapting more and more to the expectations of the adult sphere. In other words, acquiring knowledge means forgetting.

"This may seem like a fanciful contradictory opinion, but is actually grounded in rather sound opinions. To illustrate them, Nan has often referred to one of her favourite books, the Richard Hughes novel, A High Wind in Jamaica, which portrays children's independence from the adult world and from parents as completely arbitrary.

 

Ulrika, Sweden, 1998, by Nan Goldin
Ulrika, Sweden, 1998, by Nan Goldin

In the novel, the stolen children forget all about the adults, expunging their memory and totally belying our expectations. But later, after being 'rescued', they come to remember a wholly revised version of their own experience as told by their parents. As we read in the introduction, '_everything is so much the reverse of what we think it should be, or what we would expect, that we are left disorientated - unsure of what anything is, or should be. _Children learn by forgetting, and as they grow, they are destroyed."

 

Guido and Caterina tender, Torino, 2000, by Nan Goldin
Guido and Caterina tender, Torino, 2000, by Nan Goldin

Guido goes on to write: "Nan says that this is, in fact, her first story book: a Grimm's fairy tale of sorts. The first and last chapter show photos without the type of caption she has always used; there are no specific names, places, or dates, effectively guiding you into and out of the book with the arrival and departure of these children. The various chapters enter into dialogue, but in total disregard for the traditional unities of time/ place/ action that have always structured traditional narratives in theatre, film and literature.

 

First step on the planet, by Nan Goldin
First step on the planet, by Nan Goldin

"The variations from image to image do not derive from the context or action captured in the shot so much as from the emotion. Rather than telling, they hint. And due to Nan's consummate skill in constructing complex narratives from a selection of key images, it takes just a few deft strokes to plunge us into the thick of this many-layered story. In her editing nothing is left to chance: from a dominant chord of colour to an apparently negligible aspect of the framing, everything, absolutely everything, has been thought out and thought over again in an attempt to turn artifice into the spontaneous voice of nature."

We hope this short extract has piqued your interest in what is a really lovely book. You can read more of Costa's writing in our other Nan Goldin books; browse through them all here, and pre-order Eden and After from the people who made it, here.