Nan Goldin is a renowned photographer whose work often deals with groups on the margins.
After moving to New York, the setting for many of her most renowned photographs, she quickly became involved in the downtown New Wave scene, presenting slide shows of her images accompanied by music at punk rock venues such as the Mudd Club and later at art spaces. The ever-growing body of images she used in these slide shows formed the basis of The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1980–86). This series, with its snapshot-style portrayals of amorous or abusive couples, drug addiction, and intimate details of the artist's life, established Goldin as a major photographer when selections were shown at the Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1985. It was also presented at film festivals, such as the Edinburgh and Berlin festival (1985 and 1986, respectively). The life depicted in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency took its toll; many of the subjects of the series had died by the early 1990s, and in 1988 Goldin herself entered a rehabilitation clinic. She continued to candidly document her life, however, incorporating her hospital experiences into her work. Over time, her photographs have moved from representations of destructive youthful abandon to, most recently, scenes of parenthood and domesticity in increasingly international settings. In 1994, she published Tokyo Love, a series of images of Tokyo youth, in collaboration with Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki.
Goldin's work is most often presented in the form of a slideshow, and has been shown at film festivals; her most famous being a 45 minute show in which 800 pictures are displayed. The main themes of her early pictures are love, gender, domesticity, and sexuality; these frames are usually shot with available light. She has affectionately documented women looking in mirrors, girls in bathrooms and barrooms, drag queens, sexual acts, and the culture of obsession and dependency. The images are viewed like a private journal made public. In the book Auto-Focus, her photographs are described as a way to “learn the stories and intimate details of those closest to her”. It speaks of her uncompromising manner and style when photographing acts such as drug use, sex, violence, arguments, and traveling. It references one of Goldin’s famous photographs 'Nan One Month After Being Battered, 1984' as an iconic image which she uses to reclaim her identity and her life.
The Devil’s Playground is one of Goldin’s most famous published works, including her most modern images from her series Elements, 57 Days, Still on Earth, and From Here to Maternity.
Goldin's work since 1995 has included a wide array of subject matter: collaborative book projects with Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki; New York City skylines; uncanny landscapes (notably of people in water); her lover, Siobhan; and babies, parenthood and family life.
In 2002, her hand was injured in a fall, and she currently retains less ability to turn it than in the past.
In 2006, her exhibition, Chasing a Ghost, opened in New York. It was the first installation by her to include moving pictures, a fully narrative score, and voiceover, and included the three-screen slide and video presentation Sisters, Saints, & Sybils which has been described as disturbing. The work involved her sister Barbara's suicide and how she coped through production of numerous images and narratives. Her works are developing more and more into cinemaesque features, exemplifying her gravitation towards working with films.
Australian label Scanlan & Theodore commissioned Goldin with its spring/summer 2010 campaign, shot with model Erin Wasson in upstate New York. Commissioned by Italian luxury label Bottega Veneta, she photographed models Sean O'Pry and Anya Kazakova for the brand’s spring/summer 2010 campaign, evoking memories of her Ballad of Sexual Dependency. In 2011, Goldin made an advertising campaign with model Linda Vojtova for luxury shoemaker Jimmy Choo. In 2013, she photographed an advertising campaign for Dior titled 1000 LIVES, featuring Robert Pattinson.