There are a select number of photographers and books that can transform what we understand as beauty and art. American photographer and activist Nan Goldin, born in Washington in 1953, is definitely on that list.
Her childhood, and the suicide of her sister when she was a teenager, deeply affected her. Sorrow and loneliness defined those years and shaped the artistic goal of her entire work. She has always felt close to outsiders, to those who have never found a place in society. As all of Nan Goldin’s books show, her alignment with the marginal and the oppositional became a mainstay of her career.
She has dedicated her life to capturing the life of a divergent group of friends, ranging from drag queens to drug addicts, punks, and other counterculture expressions. Her work often explores the LGBT subculture, moments of intimacy, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and more recently, the opioid epidemic.
“I think the most important thing maybe about my life’s work, outside of artistically, is that the work helps to eradicate stigma, about all these issues like suicide and depression and drug use and sex work and different forms of sexual identity,” Goldin says.
When she was attending Satya Community School as a teenager, she was introduced to photography with a Polaroid camera that students were given to experiment with. A deeply shy person and an avid keeper of journals, she found that photography helped her to socialize and open up. Photography became her voice and her shield. It was also at Satya where she became close friends with photographer David Armstrong.
Lately, Nan Goldin’s name has reappeared on the newspaper front pages because of the documentary film “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”. After surgery in 2014, Goldin was prescribed the opioid OxyContin as a painkiller, which she become addicted to.
Inspired by her own experiences and by Patrick Radden Keefe’s book Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, she promoted the advocacy group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.). Together they fight the outsized influence that members of the Sackler family, owners of the company Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, and the opioid crisis have derived from a massive push of opioid pain prescriptions. “All the Beauty” is directed by Oscar-winning Laura Poitras.
Here is a selection of some of Nan Goldin’s books; first editions, signed copies, and other collectible items available on BIBLIO relating to one of the most outstanding photographers of the last forty decades:
Published in 1986, The Ballad, which documents the post-Stonewall gay subculture and Goldin’s family and friends, was Goldin’s first book and remains her best-known work. It has also set a benchmark for those artists in the narrative of the self. Edited with Marvin Heiferman, Mark Holborn, and Suzanne Fletcher, – who also is one of the most memorable subjects in The Ballad – it contains decades of intimate portraits of her friends, her lovers, and also herself as a participant observer.
But the series is much more than a declaration of love or an artistic exercise of memory. As AIDS and drug addiction ravaged a number of her friends, The Ballad also served as an epitaph to those who didn’t survive. “I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. In fact, my pictures show me how much I’ve lost,” Goldin confessed.
She captured private moments of sex, elation, violence, and addiction, revealing how fleeting things can be. One of the cores of The Ballad is her relationship with a man named Brian, who ended up assaulting Goldin in a fit of rage, nearly blinding her.
The Golden Years (1995)
The Golden Years is an exhibition catalog published on the occasion of Goldin’s retrospective at Galerie Yvon Lambert in Paris in 1995. It includes pictures taken from 1975 to 1995 in several cities, many of them already published in The Ballad, The Other Side, A Double Life, and Tokyo Love. Pictured above is a signed copy of The Golden Years, a first edition that includes an introduction both in French and English written by Jean-Luc Hennig. Take a look here.
Naked New York (1996)
By the mid-1990s, fashion house Matsuda asked Goldin to make a fashion series. As she has done throughout her career, she reunited her family and friends, including drag queens and other expressions of LGBTQIA+ subcultures. The result, quite eccentric for the fashion standards of the time, was put together in the photobook Naked New York.
On BIBLIO, you can find several first editions from the limited edition of 3500 hand-numbered copies. To explain her aim with this series, she writes: “No more heroin chic with numbness… instead these pictures are about the revolution of androgyny but lived with joy.”
Couples and Loneliness (1999)
Published by Korinsha Press in Kyoto (Japan) in 1999, this collection was edited by Goldin herself and Taka Kawachi. It includes texts by Goldin in English and Japanese, which gives the book an anecdotal insight into particular images, and numerous color pictures of her best-known works. Couples and Loneliness gathered different expressions of love and understanding of what a couple is, and it explores loss, sexuality, pain, and intoxication.
Nan Goldin: The Other Side (2000)
Originally published in 1993, The Other Side documented the life of her gender-non-conforming friends. The first images of the collecting were taken in the 1970s in Boston, where Goldin lived with a group of drag queens.
The pictures from the 80s are a chronicle of the impact AIDS had on the transgender community. In the 90s, she recorded the explosion of drag as a social phenomenon in New York, Berlin, and Bangkok. She makes a homage to their lives both in public spaces and also in intimate ones.
The Devil’s Playground (2003)
Published in 2003 by Phaidon, the monograph The Devil’s Playground represents one of the most complete collections of Goldin’s photographs since the 1980s. It includes photographs from new series such as Still on Earth (1997-2001), 57 Days (2000), and Elements (1995-2003), many of which are previously unpublished. The images are accompanied by interspersed poems and texts by writers such as Nick Cave, Catherine Lampert, Cookie Mueller, and Richard Price.
This book accompanied an exhibition of Nan Goldin’s work organized in the Palmer Museum of Art in 2005 and drawn from the private collection of Gerry and David Pincus. Pictured is a signed first edition copy of Fantastic Tales, curated by and with a foreword by Joyce Henri Robinson.
As in her previous works, the pictures document Goldin’s bohemian friends, whom she depicts with poignant and sometimes brutal honesty. It includes an essay by Jonathan Weinberg and quotes by Goldin herself. “If each picture is a story, then the accumulation of these pictures comes closer to the experience of memory, a story without end,” Goldin says.
Eden and After (2014)
Published by Phaidon in 2014, Eden and After is a collection of 300 color photographs following 30 years (1977-2013) of Goldin’s work. All of them are themed on the narrative of childhood, from pregnancy and birth to the departure into adulthood of the people photographed. This chronicle of the passage of time is accompanied by an introduction from Goldin’s close friend and art dealer, Guido Costa.
Browse all of the titles written by Nan Goldin currently listed for sale on Biblio, including books that feature her works.