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 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.
This exhibition is curated by Anne O’Hehir
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.
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