Nan Goldin likes to say that photography saved her life. In turn, she strives to pass this salvation on to others—through both her art and her activism. “Somebody told me recently that my work averted their suicide,” she wrote in 2021 for a new edition of her groundbreaking 1986 photo book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. “If I can help one person survive, that’s the ultimate purpose of my work.”
Nancy Goldin was born in Washington, D.C., in 1953, the youngest of four children in a middle-class Jewish family. She adored her older sister, Barbara, but Barbara struggled, living in and out of mental institutions for years, and died by suicide at 18, lying down on railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train when Goldin was 11.
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Earlier this year, Goldin was featured in a celebrated new documentary, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, directed by Laura Poitras, that has since been nominated for an Academy Award. Read on to learn about Goldin’s life, work, and activism beyond the film.