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Nan Goldin

GOLDIN, NAN (1953– ), U.S. photographer. Shortly after she was born in Washington, D.C., Goldin and her family moved to a suburb of Boston, where Goldin spent several primarily unhappy years before moving away from her family. In 1965 her older sister, Barbara Holly Goldin, committed suicide. It had a profound effect on her life and she sought comfort in her friends. Deciding that conventional family life and traditional schooling did not suit her, Goldin moved in with a series of foster families and began studies at an alternative school called Satya Community School. There, in Lincoln, Mass., she met two people, David Armstrong and Suzanne Fletcher, who were to become influential throughout her early career. To capture memories of the past, she began to photograph friends documenting their lives and her own. With Armstrong and Fletcher, she used photography to reinvent herself and those around her, particularly by photographing her companions dressing up for one another in gender-bending attire. This early experimentation on the line separating the genders shaped her lifelong fascination with the underground subculture.

In the early 1970s she photographed drag queens and became friends with many transvestites. She depicted her subjects in a nonjudgmental way; she saw drag as a way to reinvent oneself. During this period, she enrolled at the Boston School of Fine Arts and her photographic style changed from black and white, primarily from available light, to color, which became an integral part of her style. She illuminated her subjects with careful use of flash, achieving bright deep hues. She moved to the Bowery in New York City in 1978 and her career and personal life underwent a significant change. Her images of the time reflected her lifestyle: excessive drug and alcohol use and abusive relationships. Goldin documented everything in this demi-monde: drunken parties, beatings, sex. In 1979 Goldin put together a slide show of her photographs, added music and showed them at punk rock clubs for her friends and photographic subjects to see. The show, later called "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency," was made up of color photographs lit with flash and ran for 45 minutes. To some, the 800-image "ballad," a sweeping, diaristic and critical account of life within the photographer's milieu, reflected the same dissatisfaction with contemporary life evident in Robert *Frank's The Americans of the 1950s. Over the years, the format remained the same, but the show grew in size and artistic ambition as Goldin continued to photograph her surroundings. In 1985 the show was included in the Whitney Biennial, a major exhibition of avant-garde work.

By 1988 Goldin's drug and alcohol abuse took a toll on her life and work, and she entered a detoxification clinic. There she created many images of herself, including "My Bedroom at the Lodge," "Self-Portrait in Front of Clinic" and "Self-Portrait With Milagro." She even showed herself battered by her boyfriend, her face bruised and swollen, her eyes filled with blood ("Nan After Being Battered"). During this time many of her close friends were dying of AIDS. One of her closest friends, Cookie Mueller, a writer and dancer whom she had known since 1976, when she started her career, was stricken. Goldin's series, "The Cookie Portfolio," consists of 15 portraits, from those taken at parties in their youth to her funeral in 1989. A critic said Goldin's work did not glamorize her sensationalist subjects but tried to humanize them. In 1996 the Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of her work called "I'll Be Your Mirror." It was composed of photographs from every period of her career, which included a series with her own parents, landscapes, couples, friends' children, formal and informal. She produced several books, including one based on her "ballad" with 130 photographs, and The Devil's Playground in 2003.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.