Nan Goldin Photography

The folllowing sample essay on Nan Goldin Photography discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.

Lesbians, transvestites, gays – oh my! Pictures taken in most untraditional candid manner, is what surfaced my interest towards the work of the photographer, Nan Goldin. Colour photography is at times prejudiced against, and not seen as valuable in comparison to black and white photography. Nan Goldin proves everyone wrong with her radical, colour photographic material.

Coming across Goldin’s series of work, I have come to realize that her photographs bare her gift for friendships, do not avoid the truth, and the only thing she desires from her subjects is to be nothing but themselves.

It is not a matter of how far a photographer is willing to go, but how they go about achieving some form of success. Nan Goldin is the type of a photographer, who through gained friendships, found a way to gain people’s trust in order to capture their most private moments.

As is the case with the photograph titled Cookie pissing, Sorrento-1996, where we see a side-view angle of one of Goldin’s close friends, literally urinating while standing up. At first glance, the side-view angle of the model creates an impression for it to be merely a candid picture.

Nan Paper Art

Taking a closer look, one begins to see the visible atmosphere, created by the technique purposefully lacking editorship. With an introductory picture of a clothed Siobhan on the street, Boston -1989, Goldin’s female friend reappears though this time, nude in the picture titled Siobhan in the shower, NYC-1991.

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In the photograph, Siobhan is shown in the shower, waist up with her hands extended upward, revealing the nature of her unshaved under-arm hair. The woman in this particular picture, although slightly intimidated by her revealing pose, seems trusting towards the photographer.

This interaction between Siobhan and Goldin is clearly revealed within the ‘Siobhan’ series, in the following picture titled Self-portrait in bed with Siobhan, NYC-1990. The warm tone set by the bed lamp works to enhance the intimate moment between the two women. Captured from above, all that the viewer sees is Siobhan’s naked back and Goldin lying underneath her, tenderly gazing at her female lover. Goldin appears oblivious of the surroundings, as she is completely absorbed with her partner. However, Siobhan’s crouching position over Goldin can signify her assertiveness in the relationship.

Goldin was known to embrace relationships with women, not to mention past friendships with transvestites. Love is another major theme found within her series of intimate moments between couples. One of the heterosexual couples, exceptionally simple yet captivating, is Rise and Monty kissing, NYC-1988. Here, we have a close up of a man seating on a sofa, legs outstretched, kissing a woman sitting almost on top of him. The lighting is almost non-existent, but that is of no matter to the couple, completely engrossed with each other.

Unlike in the Self-portrait in bed with Siobhan, NYC-1990, the full body contact captured between Rise and Monty, suggests mutual love as well as mounting desire for one another. Goldin’s approach towards taking photographs unveils her gift for creating friendships, -which in the end- is a factor that helps to distinguish her content of work as most innovative and ‘in your face’. Goldin has a knack at sensing, working, and making deep inner emotions come alive on film. It is difficult to work with such subject matter, and proves to be quite a task when dealing with the theme of death.

Dealing with narcotics, and groups of close friends who are of dying of AIDS, Goldin captures their significant events prior to their death. One example is that of Cookie and Vittorio’s Wedding, NYC-1986, the couple is minutes away from being proclaimed ‘Husband and wife’. The angle is quite interesting, as all that is shown of the priest is his hand, giving the ring to the bride. It almost suggests for the viewer to participate in filling in, for the unknown figure of the priest. In this photo, Goldin is using flash because -as she was once quoted- she wants to absorb the beauty of the captured moment.

With short-lived happiness, three years later we see Cookie at Vittorio’s casket, NYC-1989. In this funeral setting, Goldin decides to use a red filter in order to capture the sadness as well as the cause of Vittorio’s death, namely -AIDS. It would almost seem like the attention is taken away, from the man lying in the white casket onto Cookie, as it is she, who is in full focus of the lens. This works, as it unveils Cookie’s look of concern, about her own state of health. Goldin beautifully concludes the story behind Cookie with the picture titled, Cookie in her casket, NYC-1989.

Dimmed lighting, red filter, the shimmer of the inner lining of the casket, was all that was necessary to produce a distinctly serene image of a dead Cookie. The attention partially taken away is by the reflection of the sown on yellowish cross on her dress. The balance is found within sparkling lights near the casket. With the camera framing the upper body, there are many flowers enhancing the calm mood, as they encircle the face as well as the body. All throughout this, while trying to reveal pain of dying, Goldin comes upon equally painful challenge, although this time it revolves around her.

The cool atmosphere found in Nan with Brian in bed, NYC-1983 juxtaposes the warm tone brought on by the invisible to the viewer lamp. The picture contains Goldin lying on her side, somewhat reserved, looking at the man sitting beside her. He on the other hand, is shown waist up, shirtless; indifferent to Goldin’s presence; all the while smoking a cigarette. Taking his long drag of the cigarette, Brian looks somewhat lost in thoughts, but definitely keeping cool composure to that of Nan Goldin, somewhat clutching the bed sheet in fright, shifting the mood of this picture to that of progressive anxiety for her well-being.

Pursuing to capture her life as it is, and not more or less (Kawachi 9), she reveals the end results of her relationship with Brian in Nan one month after being battered-1984. Here, the background consists of grayish harshness of the wall versus the softness of the delicate design, of a transparent window curtain. Although battered, she does not avoid the camera to reveal the true nature, of her abusive relationship. Beyond the evident marks of agony, she is wearing bright-red lipstick, a pearl necklace, as well as a pair of earrings.

Deliberate use of a nearby lamp accompanied with the camera flash, clearly does justice in creating the right atmosphere. The faces of the people in her photographs tell a story, Goldin herself contributes to, as either its creator or a performer. What confirms her style as exceptionally captivating, is the idea to never avoid the truth, instead, capture it in its entire context. Through her models it is apparent that she does not discriminate or care whether anyone is not perfect. Relatives, friends, strangers all play a particle of her daily life, wherever that may be.

The profiles entering her lens in Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, NYC -1991 narrate a story within a story. Even though Jimmy’s back is turned to us, Tabboo does an excellent job in conveying a message with both his body language as well as the tone of his face. Around the back of Jimmy’s neck there is a clasp to what could be an evening dress. Tabboo on the other hand, is adorned with eye-make up, only to suggest that both men are drag queens. The sensual manner, with which Tabboo touches Jimmy’s shoulder, captures the unreserved feeling a man may have for another man.

The sincerity of this moment relies on Tabboo’s face, urging some compassionate understanding from the viewer. Body language also works in the photograph titled Gilles and Gotscho at home, Paris-1992. It is equally worth noting, as being able to fully capture human emotion. Without a real sense of the background, the viewer’s gaze is automatically met with that of two men looking directly at the camera. Sitting in their apartment, Gotscho seems to be the more assertive of the two men but the type of a shirt he is wearing, is ridiculing that assertiveness.

To Goldin such details are insignificant, as what interests her, is the captivating tone of Gotscho’s face. Goldin frames the two men, while at the same time she remains true to her manner in excluding the details of the background. Daylight lighting works to enhance Gotscho’s muscular shoulders, without making them overbearing. Goldin’s has distinguished herself from other photographers because of her way of capturing all that she sees as beautiful. Her unique style of photography is never forced or directed. With no direction from the photographer the inspiring image takes on its own life.

The photographer is only there to capture the beauty of the moment. The subject is what makes the photographer’s job hard, for they must decide how to best capture the moment from the best possible angle and light. Goldin had a natural talent and vision. She could look through the camera lens and make images that would later come alive on paper. Photographs move people to tears, anger, and frustration. Goldin did what no photographer could do; She captured intimate human emotions through the use of her camera.

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Nan Goldin Photography. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Nan Goldin Photography
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