One of the first artists that comes to mind when I look at the photographs I have gathered so far is Nan Goldin, in particular, ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’. The photographs that comprise the book were taken between 1979 and 1986 and are a visual diary of her life in the East Village in New York City. Goldin herself describes the book as a public diary, she also talks about how her camera is an extension of herself and the photographs she takes are taken without interpretation or calculation:
“If it were possible, I’d want no mechanism between me and the moment of photographing. The camera is as much a part of everyday life as talking or eating or sex. The instant of photographing, instead of creating distance, is a moment of clarity and emotional connection for me.”
In large part, the book chronicles her relationship with her partner at the time, Brian. Goldin describes the relationship as being intense and consuming but she felt dissatisfaction with their dependency on one another and it’s claustrophobic nature. She wrote about her feelings in her diaries and when Brian found and read them, he beat her severely, almost leaving her blind.
The photographs also document her friends. Much of the subject matter is dark, such drug abuse and violence but many many more show them spending time together, having fun. To me, the most significant aspect of these photographs are the interpersonal relationships they depict. Almost every photograph features people, in one form or another and it is easy to read into their relationship from the moments she captures. Each photograph has a brief caption below it, which adds to the impression of this being her version of a family album. The photographs aren’t making a statement about lifestyle, relationships, or anything else. They are purely a visual diary, they function as a reminder.
Obviously the subject matter of this book is a lot darker than the material I have been receiving. But the aesthetic qualities are similar as well as Goldin’s desire to chronicle life through photography. I get the same feeling from looking at her work as I get from the photographs I’ve received for this project, the feeling of being an outsider looking in, and trying to decipher what the image is showing me and how it relates to the photographs around it. The voyeuristic aspect is always prevalent in these types of photographs (voyeurism by the way, not necessarily having a sexual aspect, but simply meaning the ‘pleasure of looking’).
If you would like to read more about Nan Goldin, I recommend this article from the Guardian