6 years ago I received this book from my then boyfriend of less than a year (now husband), Dan. At the time, I was in my second year of MFA program at SVA. Dan knew that one of the photographers I admired was Nan Goldin, and decided to go into the rare books section of the Strand to gift me “I’ll Be Your Mirror”. Best Valentine’s Day gift I’d ever received!
Nan Goldin is probably at first glance an odd choice for a family photographer to blog about. Nan is famous for her dark and moody images of her contemporaries – artists, musicians, LGBTs, and drug addicts who made up a part of the underground scene in downtown NYC in the 80s. But her work had long intrigued me, especially we shared the experience of growing up in Boston and moving to the East Village in NYC. While in grad school, I ditched my large format camera after longing to capture images that had a more spontaneous yet also intense nature to them, much like Goldin’s. I wanted to follow in her footsteps began to photograph what surrounded me – my friends, lover, and myself.
Here are some of favorite images from this book along with some my own (mostly from my grad school years), so that you can see her influence on me. Please note, I did not caption these photos. For the most part, I think whose work is whose should be pretty apparent, but feel free to contact me with questions.
One of the things I admire about Goldin is her awareness of the history of art. Many of her photos reference famous paintings, like this scene to the left of her gay friends referencing the Renoir on the right:
A big portion of Goldin’s male friends were gay, and the 80s and 90s proved tragic for many. I find her portraits of her ill friends show a balance of fragility and strength, love and fear.Self-portraiture is rampant among her collection of images. I will have to do a future post on self-portraiture, as I frankly find them to be the most intriguing form of portraiture. Taking a look at this mirror one is making me want to make something like it soon. The light, color, ratio and perspective make it (Nan is so small and far away):
Goldin’s subjects are from a bit of a more counter-culture than mine were – something that adds a voyeuristic appeal to her images for a lot of us more pedestrian types. But what I find most special about her imagery isn’t the people or drugs or any of the “bad behavior” displayed. What I find jarring is the tenderness she always incorporates despite the gritty scenes.
Since it is Valentine’s day, I am going to close with images that focus on couples, sex and intimacy. During my years in NYC, most of my friends were in situations like me, a truly serious first or second relationship. Some were strong, some were weak, and most were confused. I wanted to capture these relationships as well as my own with Dan, just like Nan did with a man who she had a long, complex relationship with. In addition to her technical use of color and focus, I find her physical distancing of subjects to have the biggest impact, and that is something I’ve continued to focus on in photos with two or more subjects since I started documenting relationships.
In the more recent years, Nan has been photographing (surprise!) moms and their children. Her subject matter has been reborn – from the downcast to the hopeful. She says that she has always just photographed people who are beautiful to her.
Here is a link to an interesting interview where she speaks about her new work of children (and gender), in relation to the book “After Eden”. Might have to be a future purchase…