Taking her camera everywhere and capturing intimate moments of her life and those in it, Nan Goldin has changed the nature of art and documentary photography. An uncompromisingly honest body of work, her 1986 photobook The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is a visual diary chronicling the struggle for intimacy and understanding between friends, family and lovers.
Without glamorization and glorification, Goldin provides a candid insight into what her world looks like. A deeply personal narrative formed out of the artist’s own experiences around Boston and downtown New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s, this body of work documents the social lives of the artist and a bohemian cast of characters around her within cheap hotels, dive bars and a range of transient spaces as well as the charged domestic setting of the artist’s New York City apartment.
“The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read,” Goldin wrote. “The diary is my form of control over my life. It allows me to obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember.”
Goldin’s photographs explore the good, bad and the ugly, documenting everything from gender roles, love and sexuality to glamour and beauty to domestic abuse, drug use and pain. They movingly capture the romance of the bohemia, but also its harsh realities. By the 1990s, Goldin’s community would be torn apart by the AIDS crisis and drug abuse. As the artist explains, the book therefore became “a volume of loss, while still a ballad of love.”
The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is ultimately about the nature of relationships, as it captures an important and transcendent element of humanity: a need to connect. Revealing a world universally human yet highly personal, Goldin became a poignant voice of a generation. The influence of this body of work on photography and other aesthetic realms has continually grown over the past 25 years, making the work a contemporary classic.
The latest edition of Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency can be purchased from Aperture for $35 in paperback and $50 in hardcover.
Main image: Nan and Brian in bed, New York City 1983. Inline images (from top to bottom): Twisting at my birthday party, New York City 1980 and Trixie on the cot, New York City 1979. All images from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (Aperture, 2012) © Nan Goldin.