Nan Goldin - 'I know how Amy Winehouse felt'

The photographer looks back at her photo series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency - 30 years on
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Nan and Brian in Bed, NYC, 1983, by Nan Goldin
Nan and Brian in Bed, NYC, 1983, by Nan Goldin

In 1987, Nan Goldin moved to New York City, intent on becoming either a commercial or fine art photographer. Goldin had studied at art school in Boston, but hadn’t been afforded much time in the darkroom, so often presented her photographs as a slide show, rather than photographic prints. She continued the practice in NYC, screening an ever-changing sequence of images featuring friends, lovers and drag queens in underground cinemas, nightclubs and bars.

 

Cookie at Tin Pan Alley, NYC, 1983 by Nan Goldin
Cookie at Tin Pan Alley, NYC, 1983 by Nan Goldin

Goldin began dating a DJ, and later added a soundtrack to her slide show, including songs by Maria Callas, The Velvet Underground, Dean Martin, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and others. This very personal series took on a performative aspect, with Goldin constantly editing and changing the slides, as well as presenting the series personally, at various venues, first in New York, then, as the she gained notoriety, around the world.

 

Brian on the Phone, NYC, 1981 by Nan Goldin
Brian on the Phone, NYC, 1981 by Nan Goldin

By 1985, Goldin had called the slideshow The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, after a line from Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera, and over the following three decades, the series became the photographer’s best-known work. Last night New York’s Aperture Foundation chose to mark The Ballad’s 30th anniversary, with a gala presentation of the work. Goldin did not cue up the records for this show; Aperture booked a live accompaniment courtesy of such 1980s downtown stars as Laurie Anderson and The Bush Tetras.


The Hug, NYC, 1980 by Nan Goldin
The Hug, NYC, 1980 by Nan Goldin

Indeed, Goldin last oversaw a soundtrack for the series in 1987, and stopped the constant reshuffling of The Ballad in 1992. While she has returned to the series occasionally, at the behest of such institutions as The Tate and The Whitney, she stopped staging personal screenings, partly because she can’t take the strain.

“It became like Amy Winehouse,” she tells Vogue.com’s Rebecca Bengal. “I felt such a strong connection with her because, you know, at the end I showed up at some fancy place in Chicago and I was too drugged to finish the slideshow, and there was a huge audience, and I know exactly how she felt when she showed up wherever it was and she couldn’t perform.”

 

Nan one month after being battered, 1984 by Nan Goldin
Nan one month after being battered, 1984 by Nan Goldin

Though they were generations and continents apart, Goldin, like Winehouse, has struggled with drug use and abusive relationships. While the photographer admits, “I had an audience of 500 and she had an audience of probably 50,000,” he contends, “it was the same feeling.”

Thankfully, we can browse through Goldin’s early images without putting her under any undue stress. Many of the Ballad’s best-known images are reproduced in this pocket-sized monograph; you can also buy her more recent works, The Devil’s Playground and Eden and After here; as well as limited edition Nan Goldin prints here.


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