The Beauty in People: Nan Goldin by Jason Collins

misty dark clouds in black sky

Nan Goldin is an American photographer and activist whose work often focuses on people, especially those from the LGBTQIA+ community. Born on the 12th of September 1953 to a Jewish family, Nancy Goldin has always had an early exposure to the harder and raw side of life. In her early life, her older sister committed suicide from the repression of her sexuality when Goldin was just 11 years old.

Since becoming a photographer, Goldin has been focusing on the queer and trans communities. Her works show how those communities live and the relationships that are found in them. 

Nan Goldin’s Early Work

At the age of 16, Goldin took up photography to help cope with the passing of her older sister. Goldin found that the camera can be used as a political tool that can inform society about the silenced communities and issues facing America better than a loud voice could. 

Goldin’s first show was in Boston in 1973, which was a visual diary through Boston’s queer and trans community. Goldin had been introduced to these communities by her friend, David Armstrong, and Goldin fell in love with the drag culture of the time, made many new friends, and began photographing them and living with them. 

The 1980’s 

During the 1980s, Goldin began her collection called The Ballad of Sexual Dependency which depicted images of drug abuse, moments of violence, and biographies of people. Goldin puts in the foreword of the collection that it is a diary because a “diary lets people read.” She meant that these people are like her family, and she wants to remember them. This statement creates a feeling of intimacy between the photographer and viewer, as if the viewer has been given the honor of looking into the photographer’s personal memories. It was also a way for Goldin to remember these friends as many have since passed on.

Photographs By Nan Goldin

Philippe H. and Suzanne Kissing at Euthanasia

This image was captured by Goldin in New York, 1981. It depicts two people kissing deeply. There is a bohemian style of clothing, with the rough appearance of the background, a blemish on the doorway. These details show that the image was taken in a place that society often doesn’t acknowledge or wish to visit. In a room that is poorly lit, the image also presents a grainy and unfiltered style, which is typical of the photos taken in the 1980s with their manual cameras and darkroom development techniques.

The image was a physical copy instead of the modern digital type, which fits with Goldin’s aesthetic and philosophical desires of creating a diary. 

Trixie on the Cot

Trixie on the Cot (New York City, 1979) shows Ivy, one of Goldin’s friends sitting on a military-style cot. Ivy is a transwoman who is often featured in many of Goldin’s images. 

The focal point is Ivy sitting on the cot in a striking white and gold dress with red flowers. She is smoking a cigarette. The colors in the image are vibrant and rich with a warm tone, which shows the warm feelings Goldin has towards her friend. The photo feels intimate, even more so than a photograph of two people kissing. The photo also has tins shown on the table, which is a nod to the famous Andy Warhol.

Goldin’s work truly does express the beauty in people, especially the people society tends to turn away from. 

Jason Collins is a freelance writer, epicure, and lover of all things human expression. While he has not had the opportunity to go to the Louvre in-person he has taken more virtual tours than he would care to remember or mention. When he is not out getting lost somewhere in the desert of Nevada he spends most of his time with his two beagles Max and Sherry.

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