The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the definitive work of photographer Nan Goldin. The book of sexually charged images originally started as a slideshow in the early 80s. Goldin traveled the world showing it in underground cinemas and museums to make her living. It can still be seen today, now 48 minutes with 30 different songs, the lyrics of which narrate the film.
A common misconception of her work was that it was about marginalized people, outcasts. In her interview for MOCA, Goldin remarks, “We were never marginalized because we were the world.” Her philosophy was and still is that the wrong things are kept secret and that revisionism is against a person’s good will. In taking the photos, she felt that she had captured her life exactly as it was happening. The stories of those times could not be changed, or revised; they were written in the photos.
The real motivation behind the photos was to document relationships, particularly those between men and women, the different languages our genders speak, and the struggle between intimacy, autonomy, and independence. It’s about a person’s dependency on another, even if the person isn’t right for them, simply because the sex is good. I can’t say I haven’t felt that way before!
We’ve all seen perfectly manicured, posed images that depict human sexuality, or, rather, excite it. Goldin’s images are different. Her focus was not on the the physical photo at all, but about what she was capturing. Though her images may, at first, come across as haphazard and messy, a closer look shows the honest, raw emotion she grasped, the pain or pleasure of that moment, living and breathing behind the paper. She was often criticized and told that her work wasn’t good, that it wasn’t true photography. “I didn’t care about good photography, I cared about complete honesty,” Goldin says. “I had to take pictures to stay alive, and I believe that any artist has to do their work to stay alive.”
Art, no matter the form, is about self-expression, and in that is an element of “don’t care” attitude that is necessary. As for my writing, the same applies. I have to write daily, and I have to write honestly, and, sometimes, that means that I have to write crazy, or vulnerable, or ecstatic. I have to write to stay alive.
What keeps you alive?