"There is a popular notion that the photographer is by nature a voyeur, the last one to be invited to the party. But I’m not crashing; this is my party. This is my family, my friends." — Nan Goldin
Having grown up in the gay scene, the subculture of drag queens, junkies and their milieu is home to Goldin. New York, late 1970s—the scene establishes itself on the Lower East Side, where the rents have plummeted. Nightlife burgeons in the lofts and clubs, they dance until they drop at the Mudd Club, TR 3, Isaiah's, awash in alcohol Existentialism with an American twist. Warhol's films inspire Goldin to take private life seriously, aesthetically.
Though she would love to make films herself, she just keeps on making personal photographs like she had as a teenager. Her flash sheds garish light on scenes in bars, lofts and clubs, in her own living room and bedroom—rumpled beds, people embracing, having sex, in front of the mirror, in the bathtub, on a train. She portrays her countless friends, on a search for themselves somewhere between masculine and feminine or both at once.
Nan's eye, as Luc Sante noted, could search out the dirtiest corners of a dingy apartment and discover colors and textures no one else had ever seen—sunset oranges, oceanic blues, hellish, seductive reds. We experience the people close to Goldin laughing and crying, in their loneliness as in their comforting togetherness. Or as they contract AIDS, go through phases of recovery, then mostly, inevitably, succumb. Gotscho Kissing Gilles, Paris (1993) is probably one of the most moving records of this theme, because it reflects profound emotional involvement.
Many of Goldin's photographs form parts of a requiem, many of her friends having died young.Then there are her self-portraits, many of them— alone, in an embrace with someone she loves, with black eyes after being beaten by her lover, clean after having broken her drug habit in 1988, or in the hospital after an accident.
At some point Goldin began to project her slides on the walls of clubs: a "family album" in which everybody recognized everybody else. Later she underscored the show, which ran for several years, with music, and called it The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. The selection of pictures continually changed.
Goldin's imagery revealed souls, as Luc Sante wrote, as if she looked through the eyes of the people she photographed in both directions. She showed her life, in which her friends and partners played the starring role.
Excerpt taken from 50 Photographers You Should Know by Peter Stepan