Nan Goldin is most famed for her expressive documentary photographs that are imbued always with a rawness that has the ability to depict human life in its uninhibited, despondent and seedy reality. Documenting 1980s New York – drag queens, drugs, AIDS and sexual experimentation – Godin’s work is a multi-faceted portrait of her life and the changing world around her.
Yet the new show at London’s Sprovieri Gallery shows that Goldin was also interested in photographing children – a subject that seems immediately at odds with her usual repertoire, but which in fact comes from her consistent wish to document the spontaneity and primal basis of human nature, something that children symbolize well. Whether photographing adults or children, Goldin has always been invested in the people behind the lens, and mixes shock with beauty in a way that forges empathy, affection and understanding. Utterly candid, her work – no matter the subject – has an honest quality that makes it irresistible.
Fireleap – Goldin’s seventh slideshow – is currently being exhibited at the Sprovieri. Taken from 1978 onwards, the 15 minute slideshow contains a series of photographs of children, either her own or her friends’, which document their life in day-to-day activities. The snapshots are not posed or pre-determined, giving them a voyeuristic, unguarded and spontaneous quality, a style that perfectly complements the nature of the subjects she photographs. A way of documenting their growing up, Fireleap creates a narrative that captures life and all its little nuances, looks and movements.
Fireleap ‘has a lot of different emotions and it’s all about people and the experience of being human,’ said Goldin of her work in an interview with Dazed Digital. Like her renowned slideshow The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1979-86), Fireleap is a visual diary that captures the relationships and moments that have shaped her life. Whether documenting 1980s New York subcultures – her surrogate family of friends and lovers – or the children in her life, the slideshows are both shaped by themes such as love and gender, innocence and growing up, identity and self-perception, raw emotion and wildness. The private made public, Goldin’s photography is a portrait of her multi-faceted life as she experiences it, and is inextricably bound up with her own biography.
Elsewhere in the Sprovieri exhibition are actual photographs of landscapes and nature, beautiful in their use of light and unfocused, abstract composition. A rich sunset, a flock of seagulls hovering delicately at dawn, one lonely, solitary tree; these works contrast in subject with the scenes of escapades and sexuality in the three grid-photographs they are immediately juxtaposed with – scenes of empty bedrooms, a naked body, and hallucinogenic states of being.
Despite this contrast, the works all portray some feeling of loneliness and desperation, due to Goldin’s concentration on atmosphere over narrative. The sense of alienation despite intimacy is palpable, adding to this sense of personal experience and biography that she portrays in her slideshows: ‘They have been my secret work metaphors for loneliness…[I was] trying to break the glass between the outside world and me. I had lived in a dark space for 15 years so the landscape was unfamiliar to me, a fascination with an unknown world outside,’ says Goldin. The works all portray a heightened sense of reality and emotion, testifying to the experiences and places that have been intimate parts of Goldin’s life.
Taken from my original post at Bareface Magazine.