Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of a Sexual Dependency is the diary that she let’s people “visually” read (Aperture Summer 1986, p. 38). Her work is based on the quality of the relationship with the person she is photographing, a collaboration. “In doing so, she redefined what photography could do and what it could be – a mirror of oneself as well as the world” (O’Hagan, 2014).
The work which was originally made as a slideshow, begins with portraits of her parents when they were young and their relationship. It then moves on to alternating between portraits of women and men, first shown outside in the world, then in their bedrooms. Then abused, battered women are shown followed by men depicted as violent. The images of women are followed by images of prostitutes, brides and mothers. Children are photographed with their parents and alone, the boys always fighting. Drag queens follow next in their various jobs, clubs, home life and in their relationships with their lovers. This is followed by a section of men masturbating, followed by images of skinheads. The club scene features next, showing bars, parties and fashion and continues with couples. Couples having sex, couples together in rooms, empty rooms, empty beds and graves. Her final image in the series is of skeletons coupling. The slideshow contains about 700 – 800 images and lasts for approximately 45 minutes. Goldin states “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is an exploration of my own desires and problems” (Aperture Summer 1986 p. 42).
She does not regard herself as a voyeur as she says that the people she lived with and photographed viewed her camera as part of her and by extension part of their daily life. “It ceases to be an external experience and becomes part of the relationship, which is heightened by the camera, not distanced.
In the interview above, she stressed that her work was not about marginalized people. The work is really about the struggle between intimacy and autonomy, and about her friends with whom she lived.
Her images are very intimate and according to Cotton (2009: 138) this series has set the standards by which intimate photography is judged. Larry Clark’s work Tulsa was a huge influence for her. Goldin cares more for content than form in her work and also complete honesty.
Holborn, Mark (1986) Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency [online] Aperture Magazine, 103 Summer 1986. Available at: http://issues.aperture.org/19860202/#!/38 [Accessed 5 December, 2016]
Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (2013). Nan Goldin – The Ballad of Sexual Dependency [user-generated content online] Creat. Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). 6 December, 2013. 10 min 30 sec Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B6nMlajUqU (Accessed 5 December, 2016)
O’Hagan, Sean (2014). Nan Goldin: ‘I wanted to get high from a really early age’ [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/mar/23/nan-goldin-photographer-wanted-get-high-early-age [Accessed 5 December, 2016]