Exhibition: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency – Nan Goldin

Exhibition: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency – Nan Goldin

‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is a defining artwork of the 1980s. Nan Goldin’s extended photographic study of her chosen family – her ‘tribe’ – began life as a slide show screened in the clubs and bars of New York where Goldin and her friends worked and played. The slide show was then distilled to a series of 126 photographs, which has recently become part of the National Gallery’s collection.

Goldin takes photographs to connect, to keep the people she loves in her memory. She is committed to the idea that photography can faithfully record a time and place, and do so in a way that has real social purpose. Using a documentary, snapshot style, she lays bare her life in the manner of a family album. We see her alongside her friends and lovers as they live their lives – hanging out, falling in and out of love, having children. But this is a community that would be decimated by HIV/AIDS and drug-related deaths. The Ballad has become as much a testament to how much Goldin and her community have lost, as it is a record of the look and feel of a past time.

Goldin refers to The Ballad as her ‘public diary’, stating that her photographs ‘come out of relationships, not observation’. The work’s overriding themes, she has stated, are those of love and empathy and the tension between autonomy and interdependence in relationships—relationships in which all genders struggle to find a common language’. Anne O’Hehir, Curator, Photography. Ballarat Art Gallery.

Art Gallery of Ballarat, Victoria until 2 June 2024

Photograph above. Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City, 1983. National Gallery of Australia collection.

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This article was written by

David Tatnall is an Australian fine art photographer & editor of View Camera Australia.

There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:35 am

    Anne O’Hehir, Curator, Photography, Ballarat Art Gallery states:

    “…Using a documentary, snapshot style she [Nat Goldin] lays bare her life in the manner of a family album. ”

    I find this misleading. The authenticity of these photos is less a function of the facticity (a document or unvanished representation of the worod) and more a function of authority on Goldin’s part through social staging . Golding has regularly presided over and commented personally on the slide shows she arranged from her archive; regularly changed the picture compilation (approx 700 pictures) to adjust them to her changing outlook on, or story lines of, her life. Authenticity is situated in the photographer subject , her confessional mode and performances.

    Such social staging distances the series from neutral documentary strategies. Instead of documentary we could say: “using a snapshot aesthetic she….

    A snapshot aesthetic suggests a amateurish, lowbrow approach with strategies to give the appearance that the picture is spontaneous and unadultered. These strategies include uncoordinated scenic arrangements, accidental cropping, garish colour contrasts, unbalanced lighting, haphazard monitoring of the sharpness of depth of field. These encode the look of truth and authenticity.

    This was the style of what art historians call the photographic avant garde.

    With Goldin her slide shows (moving picture sequences) and story telling in the 1980s and 1990s took the form of what Allan Sekula calls primitive cinema.

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