Sample Research Paper on Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency


Nan Goldin is an American photographer started her in her early teenage while living in Boston in early 1960s. She embarked on her work while staying with drag queens as well as other run-away boys at the time; apparently, Goldin is bisexual. Her initial work entailed shooting of black and white photographs of her friends in different places while in certain scenarios. She later studied fine arts at Boston School of Fine Arts before relocating to New York City in order to start her practice. However, she failed to secure an official job, also failing to practice artist model as per her major at the Fine Arts College in Boston. She became the artist who instead of being photographed became the photographer. Goldin’s obsession with photography led to her carrying her camera wherever she went, not missing some of the memorable moments of the time. Staying together with the drag queens led to her indulgence in drug abuse with her boyfriend at the time. In fact, Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is a collection of over 700 photographs of herself and other friends in some compromising situations; under the influence of drugs. Her work is a raw depiction of the sexual obsession of the time as well as the disillusionment and gloom that encompassed Goldin’s life and her friends (Harrison& Paul 12). This paper makes an analysis of Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency as it shows the struggle for intimacy and drug abuse in Goldin and her friends. The photographs have deeper meaning than what can be seen in the art work.


Nan Goldin’s work indicates photographs of the many scenes that take place in her circles. All the photographs have been taken in different scenes that bring new meanings with a deeper look. Below are some of Goldin’sphotographs and explanations in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.

Nan and Brian in bed (1981)

Figure 1: Nan and Brian in bed (1981)

The cover of the book version is a photograph of Nan and Brian in bed. Goldin’s boyfriend is seated on the bed while smoking a cigarette, at the same time; Goldin rests on her side on the bed looking at the boyfriend. The look in her eyes does not seem to be friendlier and may indicate a person who is in a deep negative thought towards the other person. Note that Goldin is the performer in this image; nevertheless, she manages to make the photograph maintain its authenticity. Her gave on the boyfriend is intact and seems passionate; however, the man seems resigned and only gazes towards the oncoming light. This could be an indication of the decline in a relationship that lacks specific direction. On the same note, it shows the sexual dependency of Goldin towards the boyfriend. As indicated above, the situation in this photoseems complex, irrespective of the bright light that shines toward them. Uneasiness is evident and the subjects have either quarreled or struggled over an issue. A bed is an important space where relationships show their full potential in terms of intimacy; on the contrary, it seems that the discord has made the bed loose its meaning in this relationship.

Nan One Month after Being Battered (1984)

Figure 2: Nan One Month after Being Battered(1984)

Figure 2 is the self portrait of Goldin after she had been battered by her boyfriend. This is a raw photograph that sends fear to the audience, especially when it comes to the thought of what she may have gone through during the audile. This is a serious form of domestic violence that Goldin boldly presents to the whole world to see. It is also an indication of the male dominance that characterizes her life and with that of her friends. One thing that comes out in this photo is the fact that it nullifies the common belief that photography is invited into a party lastly, after everything has been planned. This notion does not appear in Goldin’s work as she seems to be part and parcel of every photograph she takes(Hopkins 3). In other words, she presents her normal life day to day lifestyle and its challenges.

This particular photo is confrontational and may make certain people uneasy; however, it has to be seen. Color is evident in the photo, especially when it comes to the strong lipstick she boldly displays to the audience. This can be an indication of outright defiance to the domestic violence meted in her. She might be sending a strong message that she remains strong while healing continues. Nevertheless, as much as Goldin present a picture of domestic violence against women, it would be proper to agree that such violence also happen against men. It only shows the predominant scenario at the period when the photo was taken.

Sandra in the Mirror (1985)

Figure 3: Sandra in the mirror (1985)

Sandra looks at her own image in the mirror in this photograph.Mirror is an important aspect of art that may indicate how the observer relates to the observed. The subject seems to gaze at herself intently in a manner that reveals inward intentions. Goldin’s photographs show some of the sexual orientation confusion from herself and friends. For instance, the subject in this photo seems to be amazed or is in a dilemma of who she is. She seems to be in confusion as she looks at her own image, maybe wondering if her true nature and behavior compares to what is in the mirror. According to the photo, the subject may be looking like a person obsessed with herself; however, she does not give the audience the real openness between herself and the image on the mirror. She seems not satisfied with the image she observes in the mirror, even as she holds up the towel to cover her breasts. All the more, she seems ready to apply lipstick, meaning that she still wants to maintain her feminine look as she steps out to the world. Goldin shows a private photo of Sandra, meaning that the feelings in this photo should be more real and the true picture of herself than how she looks when with other friends.

Empty Bed (1979)

Figure 4: Empty Bed (1979)

A bed is an intimate and highly personal space that the society expects to remain secret and sacred. This should be a place where real passion is shown as well as comfort from other hustles of life. On the same note, the importance of a bed can also be seen as a place where couples either diffuse the daily struggles within a relationship or intensify the same through performing sex. Therefore, a bed is an important component of a relationship by bringing together two opposite people with the desire to couple.As much as the title refers to an empty bed, it seems there are two single beds pushed besides each other. In this photo, Goldin may have wanted to show the struggles that engulf a relationship, especially when it comes to the desire to be independent and at the same time craving for interdependence in a relationship. This is an empty bed with no performers in it, something that indicates only a memory of the struggles that have been there before. It seems that fantasy of having an ideal relationship is far from the reality represented in the photo. This is a bed with memories of the past struggles of a relationship; the players may have been separated because of the irreconcilable differences. This seems to be the real situation that surrounds Goldin and the friends.

Man and Woman in Slips (1980)

Figure 5: Man and woman in slips (1980)

Man and Woman in Slips is the actual experience that takes place in the previous Empty Bed. This is the actualization of the raw and intimate aspect of any relationship. In this photo, it seems that the images of the performers are not clear enough to the audience. It seems that the relationship in the bed is not determined by the identity of either of the couples. In the common settings, a relationship should be defined by the gender roles of each party, something that should also be evident when it comes to sex(Hal Foster, et al. 13). However, this image blurs the identity, only allowing the audience to see the partly naked bodies and the clothes. The audience is also faced by ambiguities, especially when it comes to the nature of the biological sex between the two subjects. One important facts comes from the mirrored dresses that the subjects where, it is difficult to determine the role of each of them. On the same note, the physicalembrace and the stillness in the photograph further complicates the situation as it seeks to redefine the emotional intimacy between the subjects. Goldin herself has declared that she is bisexual, something that indicates the sexual complexity in the relationships at the time(Harrison& Paul 6). One that Goldin has insisted is the fact that she struggled with her sexual identity throughout her teenage years. According to the title of the photo, a man and a woman are in bed; however, in the real sense, the audience fails to have a clear site of the man, either from the face or with the clothes. This is a complex situation that makes a redefinition of the gender roles when it comes to the sex in relationships.


Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is a slide show of very many photographs that have been designed with a musical background throughout the entire show. The initial photos taken in the 1960s and 1970s are in black and white; however, Goldin later switched to colored photographs in the 1980s as also indicated by her work. A look at the slide shows for the first time shows some courageous and unrestricted photography with natural scenes. Another shock to audience also comes from the sexually explicit work that does not attempt to conceal reality. According to Harrison& Paul (10)Goldin succeeds in presenting a chronology of intimacy struggles between friends, lovers and even the family. Goldin indicates that the photographs show her ‘tribe’ at the period shooting. These were the reality of her life as well with her friends at the time.

Color is an important aspect of photography and Goldin uses the same in her work by using bright flash while taking all her photographs. This is an indication that the audience has to go beyond what the photo shows in order to interpret and put everything into perspective. The bright light in Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency helps in enhancing the intensity of each scene. In addition, the yellow and bluish-green colors in most of her work are a significant show of the depression that the characters go through; there is no happiness but only suffering in the normal lives of the people. Notably, it seems women are on the receiving end of the suffering and depression(Hal Foster, et al. 23). Many of the photos show abusesof the women while men seem to enjoy their dominance of such;the abuse range from sexual to physical. Just as the name indicates ‘sexual dependency’ it seems that women seem to be sexually dependent on men, a situation which leads to numerous abuses by those who should show ‘love’ and ‘protection’.

The term ‘Ballad’ also seems to be a significant point of inference of the art work. This term fails to bring out the life that characterizes people who are in love. It is a bleak term that shows the claustrophobic and funereal aspect of life that Goldin and her friends find themselves. Johnson (2-4) notes that 1960s was a period characterized by optimism and great expectations by the people. Therefore, one could expect a life that was fast and full of positive expectations, requiring a different title than ‘ballad’. However, Goldin brings out the real environment she finds herself and that seems to be the truth. As much as the general life in the 60s was characterized by optimisms, unfortunately it fails to apply in her close circle. As noted by Goldin herself in an interview with Bengal, her friends were derailed by drug addiction making it impossible to make something meaningful out of their lives (Bengal 1). They spent most of their time in bars and sex, thinking of nothing else that could be development-wise. Indeed that qualifies the ‘ballad’ title of the short slide show film.

In the 60s, other challenges like HIV AIDS emerged and it seems that Goldin and her friends were also affected. According to Bengal (1), most of Goldin’s friends indulged in risky sexual behavior, that led to them contracting HIVAIDS at the time. Therefore, some of them died of the same diseases while others like Goldin herself survived to date. This also qualifies the title ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’since the ballad is a type of music that borders a dirge because it seems to qualify the claustrophobic and funereal life of the people(Hopkins7). Life shown by Goldin’s art is bleak and fails to prove optimism of the time period.

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency shows the American culture that Goldin grew in, especially when it comes to the parental secrecy and the sexual repression at the time. According to the interview by Goldin, her problem may have started immediately after her elder sister committed suicide by jumping into a train rail. She was only eleven years old; however, sexual confusion started soon after that when she was seduced by an older person who took advantage of the situation. Sheblames her parents for her sister’s death due to their strictness, the same situation leads to her sexual confusion. Her runaway status seems to have come from her quest to be free from the parental control. While at New York City after completing her training at Boston School of Arts, she seems to have managed to start a life she longed for. However, the freedom seems to have led her into confusing situations, especially when it comes to relationships and sexual orientation(Hopkins 3).


The Ballad of Sexual Dependencyis a classic art piece that leaves numerous impressions in the minds of the audiences. This is true, going by the bold photographs that Goldin takes of herself and her friends in different scenarios. According to the images, it is open that the culture she lives seems to be in a state of confusion, especially when it comes to the relationship between friends, families and lovers (Hal Foster, et al. 23).She presents her world because she is part of every happenings presented. This means that she does not present what happens in other people’s lives but hers, something that comes out with great depth, especially the bright color she chooses. Disillusionment in relationships and confusion of the gender roles is evident in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, something that is crowned by the male dominance and abuse towards women in most of the photos (Johnson 2). It is important to appreciate the fact that Goldin presents her world as it was during her time while living with her friends in New York City. As the title shows, life in this art piece seems to be a boring ballad full of confusion and even death. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency deviates from the optimism that characterized life from 1960s to 1980s.


Works Cited

Bengal, Rebecca.“A Conversation with Nan Goldin on the 30th Anniversary of The Ballad of

Sexual Dependency.” Vogue, October 26, 2015.

Hal Foster, et al.Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, and Postmodernism Vol. 2: 1945

to the Present.Thames & Hudson, 2005.

Harrison, Charles & Paul Wood. eds. Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Idea.

Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

Hopkins,David. After Modern Art, 1945-2000. Oxford university Press, 2000.

Johnson, Ken.“Bleak Reality in Nan Goldin’s “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency”.” The New

York Times, July, 14, 2016.