Throughout the history of photography, one of the most important parts of being a fine art photographer is having your work published in a book. The book is the perfect medium to showcase photography, as it allows you see the career of a photographer, along with beautiful prints of their work. The Rutgers University Libraries have a wide range of these photography art books within its collection, and if you enjoy looking at photography books, I suggest browsing the stacks at the Rutgers Art Library. One of my favorite experiences when visiting a library is the opportunity to explore the collection of photography books, especially the work of fine art photographer Nan Goldin.
My first encounter with fine art photographer Nan Goldin would be at The Whitney Museum of American Art’s mid-career survey of her work. As a young college student visiting New York City from the Midwest, I was blown away by the exhibition, which consisted of over two decades of her life and art. If one is not familiar with Nan Goldin’s work, the publication Nan Goldin: I’ll be your mirror is a fantastic introduction to one the most important photographers in contemporary art. The monograph has stunning photographs reflecting her experience living in gritty New York City during the 1980’s. The images are intense, poetic, sad, and sexual, as Goldin turns the camera to her friends’ daily life experiences. What draws me to her photography is the voyeuristic approach she takes of her subjects. As a viewer we are drawn into the downtown characters that include drug users, lovers, dance parties, and physical abuse. The images are bursting with color, due to Goldin using Kodachrome film and Cibachrome prints to display her work.
Another fantastic book by Nan Goldin is The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, which is a very personal depiction of her life with friends and lovers. Explicit, yet romantic, the imagery of The Ballad of Sexual Dependency reflects Goldin’s fast-paced lifestyle, as well as the darkness of domestic violence and the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic. What is interesting about Nan Goldin’s work is that she would exhibit her photography as slideshows to the public while adding a soundtrack to the viewing experience. As an artist, this was groundbreaking and added a new dimension to her work, based on the possibility of telling a new narrative. I was fortunate to view The Ballad of Sexual Dependency slideshow installation at the Museum of Modern Art, where Goldin displayed over 700 snapshot-like portraits while a soundtrack played in the background.
Nan Goldin’s This Will Not End Well is another book that showcases her work as a filmmaker. The book takes the viewer through the experience of her slideshows, which I find truly engaging. This is achieved by laying all the images in the same slideshow format on a solid black background, so as you flip through the pages, the sequences of her photographs look just the slideshow installations. What I find so impressive is the number of images that are presented in this book, which is based on thousands of photographs, film sequences, audio tapes and music tracks. Like all Goldin’s books, the subject matter is personal, including drug addiction and trauma, and the cast of characters from her previous work are referenced.
Nan Goldin’s Diving for Pearls is a 207 page linen-bound book filled with new unpublished color portraits ranging from the 1990s to 2015. What I like about Diving for Pearls is an introduction to new subjects and locations that previously have not been seen in her work. The imagery seems to be in Europe, perhaps Venice, and is lush with color and romance, along with cityscapes and paintings. Then there is Nan Goldin’s book Desire by Numbers, which is a unique contemporary artist book that mixes storytelling and collaboration with art critic and curator Klaus Kertess. The 35-page book contains photographs of teenage sex-workers in Southeast Asia, along with Kertess’ short story about the failures of language, love, and desire. Although I do find some of the imagery in Desire by Numbers explicit and disturbing, one needs to applaud Goldin for documenting this situation in Southeast Asia. The portraits are shot in the same style as her previous work, with the subjects located on the gritty streets and bars of various sex districts.
Recently Nan Goldin has been in the spotlight with the release of the 2022 documentary film All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. The documentary, which I have seen and loved, is a biographical film that tells the story of Goldin’s life and career as an artist. But what the film really examines is Goldin’s activism in regards to the opioid epidemic. Goldin, who has struggled with addiction her whole life, was prescribed oxycontin from her doctor and became addicted to the drug. Through this experience, and a near fatal overdose of fentanyl, Goldin began working with the advocacy group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now). The documentary highlights various demonstrations by P.A.I.N that take place in museums that have been funded by the Sackler family. As most of us are aware, the Sackler family was the owners of the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, who are responsible for the role oxycontin played in the opioid crisis in America. The success of P.A.I.N.’s demonstrations play a major role with the Sackler name being removed from some of these major museums.
Available titles from Rutgers University Libraries
- Goldin, N., & Kertess, Klaus. (1994). Desire by Numbers. Artspace Books.
- Goldin, N., Cramer, M., & Martin, L. (2016). Diving for Pearls. Steidl.
- Goldin, N., Heiferman, Marvin., Holborn, M., & Fletcher, Suzanne. (1989). The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Aperture Foundation.
- Goldin, N. (2022). This Will Not End Well. Steidl.
- Sussman, E., Goldin, N., Armstrong, D., & Holzwarth, H. Werner. (1996). Nan Goldin: I’ll be your mirror. Whitney Museum of American Art.