Nan Goldin's Fire Leap

The legendary photographer talks us through her current London expo, a slideshow shot in Greece showing children singing obscure songs

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Nan Goldin found fame through taking photographs of friends and documenting her life in a process that started when she was a teenager and has continued throughout her life. These photographs of drag queens and club kids now hang on the walls of the world's art institutions, telling a tale of New York in the 80s; drugs, sexual experimentation and AIDS. Since that time Goldin has continued to take photographs and exhibit her work around the world.

Last week an exhibition of her work opened at the Sprovieri Gallery in London, including two grids of photographs that the artist sees as a great change in her work and also a slide show, ‘Fire Leap’, which she describes as ‘The Ballad but children’, a multi faceted portrait of the children in her life.

Dazed Digital: Could you tell me about Fire Leap?
Nan Goldin
: It’s a slideshow that I first made one year ago and shot in Greece, this time it’s a different version with three more songs. It’s all children singing very obscure songs and it’s all children in the slideshow. There’s some pregnancy and childbirth at the beginning but it’s basically children, so it’s a slideshow about children.

DD: And how did the project come about? Did you want to do a project about children in particular or was it more organic than that?
Nan Goldin:
I think I wanted to and I also know a lot of people with kids, I started to get more and more interested in it. I’ve always photographed children but not extensively like this. More friends were having children and I’m a godmother to a lot of the children so it became a part of my life.

DD: With your work being so much a part of your life, what is it like to look back over it?
Nan Goldin:
I do that consistently, recently I had a show that was commissioned by the Louvre, a slide show and it was about the relationship between the statues and the paintings there, that I was allowed to photograph and my old, old work which was dug out of these old boxes that nobody’s ever seen. But I’m not a very nostalgic person. I had certain years that were great so it’s a pleasure to look at those years but The ballad of Sexual Dependency is still shown and that’s the one that hurts me the most because so many of those people are gone.

DD: How do you feel about the impact of The Ballad of Sexual Dependency?
Nan Goldin:
I don’t think it was ever about a marginal world, as people like to say. It was about my world and we didn’t care if that was marginal, we didn’t care about the other world. The so-called straight world so who were we marginalised from? They were marginalised from us, so it was about a community of friends and I think that I sort of made the snap shot respectable as art in photography, I think that was the change my work provoked.

DD: You have maintained the openness in your work which, to experiences and people, how do you do that?
Nan Goldin:
But it’s actually changed; I don’t like to talk about it. In my work, I don’t like it to be about me anymore. I don’t feel the need. I don’t know, I guess it began to feel exploitative of myself. It was never just about me it was about a community, it was about other people and I felt that ethically I had to show myself doing anything I showed other people doing. So that’s why it became more about, I mean literally, about me, why I included myself so much.

But I’m not doing the same work now and nobody knows it and this will be the first time that anyone outside of a small number of people in New York in a group show will see the very new work I’m doing. There’s two pieces that are in the show and for me it’s like a sea change. A big, big change.

DD: Are you talking about the landscape pictures, the more abstract pictures?
Nan Goldin:
No, the landscapes I’ve been doing since the seventies, I just never showed them. Somebody said to me that everybody has pictures like mine, ‘The Ballad’ kind of stuff but they keep them in their bureau. My pictures of landscapes were the ones I kept hidden. For a long time the natural world, the outside world, the landscape really unfamiliar to me cause I spent many years in the city, was lost and had no one there so I really had no relationship to that.

DD: Tell me about the new work you are showing alongside the landscapes, are you talking about 'Fire Leap'?
Nan Goldin:
Fire Leap is a slideshow and in a way is a lot like other slideshows that I’ve done, it’s five to six different songs and it has a lot of different emotions and it’s all about people and the experience of being human, although children are kind of another species. It’s about people, it’s almost like the ballad but children. Except that there’s no misery there’s no angst and pain in this show, not that I don’t feel it. You know, pain, just because it’s not in the show.

One that is very new is a double exposure grid of pictures from the eighties up to maybe, 2008. You can’t double expose with a digital camera and these were all accidents none of them were shot like that, which I’m sure no one will believe but they were all accidents and I love accidents and they really blow out the theory of the decisive moment which I don’t believe in and the slide show was kind of against that too.

DD: You’ve said: “ I have never believed in one decisive portrait of someone but in a variety of pictures that record a complexity of a life.”
Nan Goldin:
I don’t believe in that that one portrait says who somebody is. The slideshows are movies, they’re my way of making movies out of stills, the narratives are more open than with narrative film. But the slideshows are about history. I don’t know, the reality is very complex.

DD: Do you think that the fact that you can change them and that they are always evolving is something that allows you to explore different aspects of what the work is about?
Nan Goldin:
One portrait of a person can’t tell you much, I don’t think. I mean, I don’t believe in that that one portrait says who somebody is. The slideshows are movies, they’re my way of making movies out of stills, the narratives are more open than with narrative film.

And I’m starting to collaborate with musicians like the Tiger Lilies and I have done something at the Tate with Patrick Wolf, and also with the Tiger Lilies. They are their own band so it’s not my soundtrack at all, it’s very different to watch it.

DD: What have you got coming up?
Nan Goldin:
I have a lot of projects coming up which involve me spending time in other parts of the world, like South America and Africa. I’ve probably lived in about six different places in Europe and I’ve never lived in Africa or South America and I’m really interested in exploring other parts of the world.

Fire Leap by Nan Goldin runs are the Sprovieri Gallery, London until August 6, 2011

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