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Nan Goldins Representation Of Gender And Sexuality Through Photography

In this essay I will be looking at how Nan Goldin photographs people and represents their sexuality and gender through her work as it has always been a heavy factor in her work. What does it say about the subject matter she is trying to represent? I will look at other photographers that represent sexuality and gender a lot in their work and compare how different photographers work in different ways. I will also look at how this work of hers has possibly influenced other photographers and their work. I will look at the background of Nan Goldin and her family upbringing to see if it has influenced the way she works and if her surroundings at the time of making her work gave her a strong need to want to represent this subculture she was emerged in. I would also like to give my opinion on if the representation she has given of these men and women seems accurate and if she has portrayed them in a certain way, what is she trying to say about these people?

Other photographers I would like to look at in this essay include Larry Clark who’s most common subject was the photography of youth and their engagement of underage sex and violence and were all part of a subculture, somewhat like the photography of Goldin’s prostitutes and drag queens.

I will look at all of Goldin’s work and see how she has progressed through her work and if anything has changed since she started for example her view on sexuality and how people represent themselves to others. Books I will be looking at will include ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ which is a visual diary of her life in New York. ‘Il be you Mirror’ is another book I will be heavily focusing on during my research as it covered two decades of her life, this is a book in which some of her most influential work is gathered, therefore an obvious choice when looking at her photography.

Her work has heavily touched on subjects filled with sexual gender identification such as drag queens and I will look at each project she has encountered and how she has chosen to deal with the transformation of the self and courage. Goldin looks heavily in her work at the external behaviour of people and their relationships and I would like to analyse this as it may be related to how she would like to deal with her own issues and if this representation is a reflection about how she feels about the same issues.

Goldin photographs real life and records what she see’s, she gives a straight forward document of sexuality- but can it sometimes be too much? She documents their personal space and joys and sorrows of contemporary life and looks at sexuality as an addiction. I will research how she has photographed the significance of the female figure and why she does so. Does Goldin pave a new way for photographers in how they represent sub cultures and women?

Biography of Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin was born in Washington DC in 1953 in an upper middle class Jewish family. Shortly after, she and her family moved to Boston, where Goldin spent a few unhappy years before moving away from her family. In 1965, when Goldin was 14 years old, her older sister, Barbara Goldin, committed suicide. extremely troubled by this event, Goldin sought after relievement in her friends and in a way created an alternate family. She soon decided that tradition family values and life were not for her, then Goldin moved in with a series of foster families, and soon enrolled in a school called Satya Community School. Here she met two friends- David Armstrong and Suzanne Fletcher. As the memory of her sister started to become disappear, Goldin started photograph to preserve the her memory. She photographed her associates so she would never misplace the memory of them, as had happened with her sister. Her photographs were her way of documenting their lives, and, in turn, her own. When she began photographing, Goldin started to experiment cross-dressing and drag; this early experimentation would shape Goldin’s lifelong fascination with the blurry line separating the gender and sexuality. Through Armstrong, Goldin was introduced to the drag subculture in Boston. There, she photographed drag queen beauty contests during the early 1970s and became friends with many transvestites. Her documentation of these people was reality as she seen it, showing them in a straightforward way, being part of their everyday lives.

Goldin then moved to the Boston School of Fine Arts, and therefore changed her photographic style slightly. Before she began at the college she would mainly use black and white film, however within college started to experiment with colour and started to introduce flash. She gradually developed her own style of photography, with subtle flash and bright vibrant colours.

When she graduated from college in 1978 she moved to New York City and began photographing American subcultures such as the gay scene in the late 70s and early 80s. This was a major life change for Goldin with a heavy exposure to drugs and abusive relationships. ‘The Ballad of sexual dependency’ was created between 1979 and 1986 which documents a drug culture and relationships of which by this time were commonplace in Goldin’s circle of friends. Goldin wrote, “I believe one should create from what one knows and speak about one’s tribe . . .You can only speak with true understanding and empathy about what you’ve experienced.” Most of the people she documented during this time were dead by the 1990s. In addition to this book she created two other books including ‘I’ll be your Mirror’ and ‘All by Myself’.  The main themes of her early work include gender and sexuality.  She documented everything from parties to her relationships like a personal diary for all to see.

By 1988 Goldin’s lifestyle of drugs and alcohol started to take a toll on her life, and entered a clinic to deal with her problems. Throughout this time she experimented a lot with self portraiture and documented her progress in the clinic. Throughout this time in the clinic she was also struggling with some outside issues including having to deal with the death  of many of her close friends that she has photographed over the years. Most of them were dying of aids, one of the most important being Cookie Mueller, a friend since 1976. ‘The Cookie Portfolio’ was a small document of her life over 15 portraits that Goldin created perhaps as a tribute to her friend. Goldin then decided to document many of her friends with AIDs that seem to be dramatically disappearing. Somewhat he same as what she had done when her memory of her sister started to disappear. In 1994, she and her friend David Armstrong created a book called A Double Life. Composed of photographs taken by both Goldin and Armstrong, the book displays their differing styles of photographing the same person.

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