Nan Goldin is an American photographer. She lives and works in New York, Berlin, and Paris. Goldin was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in the Boston, Massachusetts suburb of Lexington, to middle class Jewish parents. Goldin’s father worked in broadcasting, and served as the chief economist for the Federal Communications Commission. After attending the nearby Lexington High School, she enrolled at the Satya Community School in Lincoln, where a teacher introduced her to the camera in 1968. Goldin was then fifteen years old. Her first solo show, held in Boston in 1973, was based on her photographic journeys among the city's gay and transsexual communities, to which she had been introduced by her friend David Armstrong. Goldin graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Tufts University in 1977/1978, where she had worked mostly with Cibachrome prints.
Following graduation, Goldin moved to New York City. She began documenting the post-punk new-wave music scene, along with the city's vibrant, post-Stonewall gay subculture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was drawn especially to the Bowery's hard-drug subculture; these photographs, taken between 1979 and 1986, form her famous work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency — a title taken from a song in Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera. These snapshot aesthetic images depict drug use, violent, aggressive couples and autobiographical moments. Most of her Ballad subjects were dead by the 1990s, lost either to drug overdose or AIDS; this tally included close friends and often-photographed subjects Greer Lankton and Cookie Mueller. In 2003, The New York Times nodded to the work's impact, explaining Goldin had "forged a genre, with photography as influential as any in the last twenty years". In addition to Ballad, she combined her Bowery pictures in two other series: "I'll Be Your Mirror" (from a song on The Velvet Underground's The Velvet Underground & Nico album) and "All By Myself."
Goldin's work is most often presented in the form of a slideshow, and has been shown at film festivals; her most famous being a 45 minute show in which 800 pictures are displayed. The main themes of her early pictures are love, gender, domesticity, and sexuality; these frames are usually shot with available light. She has affectionately documented women looking in mirrors, girls in bathrooms and barrooms, drag queens, sexual acts, and the culture of obsession and dependency. The images are viewed like a private journal made public.
Goldin's work since 1995 has included a wide array of subject matter: collaborative book projects with famed Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki; New York City skylines; uncanny landscapes (notably of people in water); her lover, Siobhan; and babies, parenthood and family life.
Her hand was injured in a fall in 2002, and she currently retains less ability to turn it than in the past. In 2006, her exhibition, Chasing a Ghost, opened in New York. It was the first installation by her to include moving pictures, a fully narrative score, and voiceover, and included the disturbing three-screen slide and video presentation Sisters, Saints, & Sybils. The work involved her sister Barbara's suicide and how she coped through production of numerous images and narratives. Her works are developing more and more into cinemaesque features, exemplifying her graviation towards working with films.
Australian label Scanlan & Theodore commissioned Goldin with its spring/summer 2010 campaign, shot with model Erin Wasson in upstate New York. Commissioned by Italian luxury label Bottega Veneta, she photographed models Sean O'Pry and Anya Kazakova for the brand’s spring/summer 2010 campaign, evoking memories of her Ballad of Sexual Dependency photos. In 2011, Goldin made an advertising campaign with model Linda Vojtova for luxury shoemaker Jimmy Choo. In 2013, she photographed advertising campaign of Dior titled 1000 LIVES, featuring Robert Pattinson.
Goldin published The Ballad of Sexual Dependency in 1986 along with help from Marvin Heiferman, Mark Holborn, and Suzanne Fletcher, as a “visual diary” of a close group of people Goldin referred to as her “tribe”. This book contains a large selection of her photos including a forward written by herself. In this forward she describes this book as a “diary [she] lets people read”. The photos show a transition through Goldin’s travels and her life. In the end of her writing Goldin includes a small dedication “to the real memory of my sister, Barbara Goldin”.
Goldin has also been included in published works such as Auto-Focus. A book dedicated to contemporary self-portraits of photographers by Susan Bright. Goldin has included three photos of herself from various years of her life. Her photographs are described as a way to “learn the stories and intimate details of those closet to her”. It speaks of her uncompromising manner and style when photographing acts such as drug use, sex, violence, arguments, and traveling. It references one of Goldin’s famous photos Nan One Month After Being Battered, 1984 as an iconic image which she uses to reclaim her identity and her life.
Goldin has published many books specifically her Biography and book called Nan Goldin with help from Guido Costa. This book encompasses her photographs and her life as an internationally recognized photographer. The Devil’s Playground is one of Goldin’s most famous published works, including her most modern images from her series ELEMENTS, 57 Days, Still on Earth, and From Here to maternity. She has also been featured and included in published works such as Emotions & Relations and So the Story Goes, which focus on photography as a way of recording everyday lives. Both books include provocative and influential photographers along with Goldin. Other works which she has published include Eden and After and The Other Side.
Some critics have accused her of making heroin-use appear glamorous, and of pioneering a grunge style that later became popularized by youth fashion magazines such as The Face and I-D. However, in a 2002 interview with The Observer, Goldin herself called the use of "heroin chic" to sell clothes and perfumes "reprehensible and evil".
An exhibition of Goldin's work was censored in Brazil, two months before opening, due to its sexually explicit nature. The main reason was the photographs containing sexual acts next to children. In Brazil, there is a law that prohibits the image of minors associated with pornography. The sponsor of the exhibition, a cellphone company, claimed to be unaware of the content of Goldin's work and that there was a conflict between the work and its educational project. The curator of the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Modern Art changed the schedule in order to accommodate, in February 2012, the Goldin exhibition in Brazil.
Goldin was admitted to the French Legion of Honor in 2006 and received the Hasselblad Award in 2007. on 10 November 2007. In 2012, the MacDowell Colony presented her with its 53rd Edward MacDowell Medal.
Goldin has been represented in America exclusively by Matthew Marks Gallery since 1992 and Yvon Lambert Gallery in Paris.