Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency

One of the most powerful images, “Nan and Dickie in the New York Motel,” is a self-portrait in a mirror where Nan is half-naked and Dickie is fully dressed and the room appears to be tilted in the vertigo of sex. The images track Goldin and her friends engaged with the oppositional pride of reinvention that goes along with youth. Doing what young people have always done, they get high, they have intercourse, they’re pretty nocturnal (most of the photos were shot using flash, indoors and at night so that white walls show up with greenish tint or a red bedspread has gassy, orange overtone). As a viewer, I’m nostalgically reminded of the jumbled mishmash of apartments in the 1970s and early ’80s, devoid of technology except for a turntable stacked with Kurt Weill, Dionne Warwick, and Maria Callas, all part of The Ballad’s soundtrack. At the same time, it’s painful to see the bodies collapsed across beds, not knowing what’s ahead: AIDS, addiction, loneliness, impermanence. It’s like watching early videos of Amy Winehouse doing Back to Black—everything’s there, and Goldin has acknowledged their connection.