Nan Goldin touching photography and chosen family
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November 21, 2022
Chosen Family
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The hearts that continue to beat through Nan Goldin's Photography

When thinking of chosen families and deep connections far beyond blood and kinship, it is no surprise we thought of Nan Goldin's photographic work and life documentation. 

For years, Nan Goldin has photographed people she thought of as family, and it all became life-like as a photographic diary. New York's LGBTQ and queer scene through the years and the aids epidemic on film.

The photographer started her quest for love and truth very early on. Born in a middle-class family, where everything seemed normal, Goldin quickly grew to know a peculiar life. At a very young age, her big sister, whom she regarded and was close to, unfortunately took her own life in the 60s. Surprisingly their parents took the road of not telling anyone in the neighborhood to keep appearances intact—a disconcerting time for the young woman.  

Infuriated by the bald-faced lie and the repression of her parents, Nan ran away. In her grief, she got to know love and desire. It was very paradoxical, but it led her to her vision of love and kinship as we know it today. While living on the streets, she met the people that would constitute her new family. Friends and lovers she photographed through life and intimate settings. Her chosen family. 

Her work is one of a photographic diary, capturing her life and the people around it- an auto-fiction if you like. She was noticeably portraying the youth of the '80s and transcribing this confusing period with the beginning of the AIDS crisis and all the people it took away. A time when love and death coexisted closely. Where extravagant parties flourished all around New York as a reaction to the violence that was weighing on the community. Goldin shot her kins in very intimate situations: in bathrooms, drunk, high, having sex, crying, and on their deathbeds. Nothing is staged; everything stems from the moment.

In the heart of the LGBTQ community where Nan was evolving, the epidemic was devastative. One could feel a before and after it. The whole time was blurry and filled with fake news regarding the illness. And in three/four years, everyone had lost friends and people they regarded as family.

Nan was touched and driven by it in her work - she portrayed youth and unconditional love amongst friends with her collection "heartbeat." Proximity and affection keeping love and grief in mind. Friends and lovers in light and darkness.

Frivolous and light setting through intimate moments. But overall, the happy people in Goldin's life.

The multimedia installation played out in slideshow as if it were a family presentation; short stories that chronicle the intimacy, passion, love, and longing between friends- music that accompanied the installation performed by Björk. A discrepancy between the Kyrie-like soundtrack and the happy and youthful people portrayed by the photographer. 

It showcases the power of chosen family and the love and grief felt by the ostracised New York youth at the time. An ode to love and its expansiveness. A love formed from stigmatization and steadfast in its form - Families recomposed and alleviating against violence and hate. 

Light and sweat mixed with a myriad of emotions and settings. New York through the epidemic and the aftermath. Celebrating life with extravagance as well as facing death. The dichotomic feelings of being young at the time. 

The heartbeats of intense friendships that continue to live through Nan Goldin's photography.

A movie about her work and life struggles and stories recently came out - A must watch if you are interested in her activism as well:

Photography Courtesy Of Nan Goldin


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