Fine Art Photography Series
Nan Goldin

Biography of Postmodernist Art Photographer.

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Nan Goldin (b.1953)


Nan Goldin's Photography
Selected Solo Exhibitions
Other Famous Photographers

For a brief explanation of technical
and historical terms, please see:
Art Photography Glossary.



Nan Goldin's Photography

Specializing in portraits, Goldin's fine art photography highlights the lives of socially marginalized groups as well as a number of feminist issues. Regarded as one of the most active art photographers working mostly with images of the body, her postmodernist art is part of the general increase in photographic representations of deviance from cultural norms, which began during the 1980s. She also uses photography as a visual diary: her series The Ballard of Sexual Dependency (1979-2004), for instance, is a collection of 700 slides set to music which focuses on gender politics and depicts the lives and loves of a marginal community on New York's Lower East Side.

Described as a passionate chronicler of love in an era of uncertain sexuality, glamour, violence, intoxication and death, Goldin captures very real moments of loneliness, admiration, self-revelation, as well as private instances of love and hate. Hers is a type of contemporary art which draws on snapshot aesthetics and gets 'up close and personal', although without the spontaneity of street photography.

For details of the early inventions upon which Goldin's camera art is based, see: the History of Photography (c.1800-1900). Compare the work of Brassai (Gyula Halasz) (1899-1984), the Hungarian camera artist who captured the street life of night-time Paris in the 1930s.

For other American women artists who explore the stereotyping of women and minorities, see: Judy Chicago (b.1939) and Barbara Kruger (b.1945).


Childhood in Washington DC. After her older sister's suicide, removed from parental care and given to foster parents. Schooling in Lincoln Massachusetts. First black-and-white photos and Polaroids of friends (including David Armstrong). Evening classes at the New England School of Photography under Henry Horenstein. Through him discovers the work of Larry Clark (b.1943), who specializes in the milieu of junkies (see his photobook Tulsa, 1971). 1974, workshop under the Viennese-born Lisette Model (1901-83). Begins studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (with diCorcia and Mark Morrisroe). 1973, takes up colour photography (including flash and wide-angle aesthetic). 1977, Goldin graduates from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Tufts University, after working mainly with Cibachrome prints.

1978, moves to New York. Begins documenting the post-punk new-wave music scene, and feminist art, along with the city's gay culture of the late 1970s/early 1980s, notably the Bowery's hard-drug subculture. She is promoted by Marvin Heiferman (Castelli Graphics). First group exhibitions especially slide shows (from 1980 with music). In 1981 comes The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (named after a song in Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera) her most important multimedia presentation to date (1985/86 much admired at contemporary art festivals in Edinburgh and Berlin).

Afterwards succumbs to increasing drug abuse, and 1988 enters rehabilitation centre. Subsequently increasing exploration of her own self (slideshow: All By Myself). In addition series on drag queens (The Other Side; A Double Life), a project with Nobuyoshi Araki (Tokyo Love) and photos of empty rooms (hotel rooms, etc.), entitled Vakat. A major retrospective follows in at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1996. 2001, much admired exhibition in Paris and 2002 in Madrid. 2007, receives Hasselblad Award.

In 2006, comes her New York installation, Chasing a Ghost: her first work to include moving pictures. Features Sisters, Saints, & Sybils, a video presentation of how she coped with her sister's suicide. Her most recent works reveal further changes in her lens-based art away from photography, towards film. Like Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-89), however, Goldin appears to skirt the edge of good taste, due to the explicit nature of her work.

For a brief guide to the artistic nature of lens-based art, please see: Is Photography Art?

Selected Solo Exhibitions

1977 Boston (Atlantic Gallery) (joint show with David Armstrong)
1985 Boston (Institute of Contemporary Art)
1987 Aries (Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie - 1997,2009)
1988 New York (Pace/MacGill Gallery - 1990, 1993)
1991 Graz (Austria) (Forum Stadtpark)
1992 Berlin (DAAD Galerie)
1993 Stockholm (Fotografiska Museet, Moderna Museet)
1994 Berlin (Neue Nationalgalerie)
1996 New York (Whitney Museum of American Art)
1998 Wolfsburg (Germany) (Kunstmuseum)
2001 Paris (Pompidou Centre)
2002 Madrid (Museo Nacional Centra de Arte Reina Sofia/PHotoEspana)
2003 Avignon (Collection Lambert)
2005 Philadelphia (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)
2006 Moscow (Moscow Museum of Modern Art)
2007 Gothenburg (Hasselblad Center)
2008 Stockholm (Kulturhuset)
2009 Arles (Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie)
2012 Rio de Janeiro (Museum of Modern Art)

Photographic art by Nan Goldin is regularly exhibited in some of the best galleries of contemporary art across America.



Other Famous 20th Century Photographers

For early pioneers, see: 19th-Century Photographers. Also, in addition to those mentioned above, here is a short list of the best known camera artists of the 20th century.

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) Street photos
Robert Capa (1913-54) War photos
Irving Penn (1917-2009) Fashion, ethnographical imagery
Richard Avedon (1923-2004) Fashion photography
Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007) (b.1934) Photos of Industrial buildings
Jeff Wall (b.1946) Staged photography
Cindy Sherman (b.1954) Surrealistic self-portraits
Andreas Gursky (b.1955) Architecture, landscapes

• For more about Feminist photography, see: Homepage.
• For other forms of gender-centered camera art, see: Video Art.

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