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Photography Galen Bullivant and Ashley Rommelrath

Are these slides from eBay genuine Nan Goldins?

The new exhibition Ballads, Something Found displays these mysterious artefacts – cautiously attributed to Goldin – and unearths the strange story of their origins

In early 2018, Ash Rommelrath, founder of the rare book website Rapture Books, was trawling through the pages of eBay on the hunt for a grail. Soon after a mysterious listing from an incognito account caught his eye, Rommelrath found himself in possession of a case of photographic slides labelled as Nan Goldin’s famed photography series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Now, a little over five years later, these slides are the focus of the new exhibition BALLADS, SOMETHING FOUND… at Peckham’s Satellite Gallery.

Rommelrath met with Satellite founder Galen Bullivant in May 2022, and the pair decided that the slides were of too much cultural value to keep hidden from the public any longer. From then, Lloyd and Bullivant have been on a ten-month mission of discovery, attempting to locate the original of the slides and find out if they are originals or not. “We’ve reached out to art critics, photography experts, the director of Marian Goodman Gallery and Nan Goldin’s liaison”, Bullivant says of the search, but none could give them a conclusive answer. And while the “strongest suggestion” was that the slides were copies created for a show of Goldin’s work, no gallery is listed on the slides or inside their case, so the “mystery of their origin continues”, says Bullivant.

While Bullivant recognises that it’s not the conclusive ending he hoped for, “the slides themselves are still beautiful, well preserved, possibly reproductions, of an important body of work… so we wanted to celebrate an artist who has inspired so many, including ourselves.” And it couldn’t be a more pertinent time for BALLADS to go ahead – Goldin’s work is very much having a cultural moment, with more and more young people discovering and learning from her art. “Now more than ever the authenticity and intensity of [Goldin’s] work resonates so much with younger people”, says Bullivant, “as they’re part of this Instagram world of people trying to brand themselves or project something they’re not.” In this way, the exhibition of Goldin’s work at Satellite is an antidote to this mode of being.

Although Goldin has been known to exhibit her work as slideshow projections, Satellite has decided to display the slides inside a lightbox as an alternative way of viewing the original art. Bullivant made clear that “the images themselves are not all of the subject matter – we want people to see the labelling around the slides so there's another layer of context for the audience to take in”. The purpose of BALLADS then is not only to exhibit these powerful photographs, but to explore the journey behind the physical objects. “You could say we’re presenting more as artefact than artwork,” concludes Bullivant. “We still don’t know where they came from – or if they are real or not – so in some ways we’re using this show as a vehicle to get us closer to the answer.”

BALLADS, SOMETHING FOUND is showing at Satellite, Unit 15 & 17 Holdrons Arcade, 135a Rye Lane, London, SE15 4ST on June 1 from 6-9pm.

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