Nan Goldin Bobby Masturbating 1980

For all the shit that gets thrown at Nan Goldin very little sticks.

Initially, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency seemed to me random, sloppy and enormously irresponsible. Six years later, I am beginning to see my criticism reflected more of my own insecurities than any true response to the work.

What I missed then, I think, was that the “glamorous, ambition-fueled despair” permeating these images was not a celebratory endorsement of a high risk lifestyle so much as unflinching reportage.

That these images originated in a time and place regularly mythologized for the filth and depravity it dealt in and how that filth inspired a motherfucking rock music renaissance muddle matters further.

As I see it the distinction between exploitation and providing a ‘view from the ground’ of an extremely outlying experience is as slippery as it is crucial.

For example: this image with its ontological title is all lurid flash bulb and exposed sweating skin—very fucking rock and roll. A boy lit up, frozen in the act of massaging his testicles with his left hand and stroking his erection with his right.

It’s hard to tell if he’s on drugs. Although with his heavy lidded eyes, if your starting point is looking for exploitation it is easy to think that Goldin took a junky, propped him up and snapped his picture.

Does the image read like that? I don’t think so.

It seems more likely that Nan and Bobby stayed in the same squalid Lower East Side squat. Late one over hot night, feeling extremely horny he slipped away to find a dark corner to get himself off where Goldin roaming around with her camera like always found him.

And while normal folk make an attempt to hide themselves when they are caught– just as the encroaching party averts there eyes, you are forgetting these aren’t normal folk. Both Nan and Bobby suffer from “ambition fueled-despair”.

I know something of this disease. And when you meet another who understands what it is like to be so trapped, you don’t look away. We may lower our gaze– knowing that the other will watch or they won’t. Either way they reserve their judgment because they are deeply aware that if the situation were reversed there is no doubt of reciprocity.

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