American artist Nan Goldin made an installation of photographs depicting events spanning the period of her life from 1973 to 1999—a kind of micro-retrospective, the show covered the gallery walls from floor to ceiling. It created an intense, shrine-like environment that completely immersed the viewer in Goldin’s world, functioning as a homage both to the friendships that had survived through those twenty-six years, and to those friends she had lost.
Goldin says that photography taught her how to function as a human being; how to have relationships with people. She has continually recorded her community of friends and lovers and, in turn, her own intimate, personal history: ‘My work originally came from the snapshot aesthetic. I think it’s one of the purest uses of photography. Snapshots are taken out of love and to remember shared times.’ Empathy is perhaps Goldin’s greatest asset, and she uses it to capture the ambience and texture of a volatile world of cheap hotel rooms, low-rent apartments and dirty bedsits, bars and clubs—all shot from an insider’s point of view.
Goldin also uses her camera as a means of self-preservation, often making harrowing self-portraits—in one, her face is horribly swollen and bruised—in order to remind herself of the damage caused by being in an abusive relationship. She has also taken photographs as a means of recording, over time, how her community dealt with the effect of AIDS, and struggled with drug addiction.
There is a documentary immediacy to Goldin’s work, while, at the same time, the pictures possess an intensity that results from a combination of formal clarity and marked corporeality. In her more recent images of light-infused landscapes, the artist defines a new kind of beauty, as well as communicating an overwhelming sense of loss. Goldin has said that until she detoxed, she had no real relationship to daylight and the natural world, as she lived totally in the night and so could not connect. Since detoxing, her work has revealed an intense emotional response to the forms and colours of the natural landscape—something largely untouched in her earlier work.
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