Nan Goldin’s photography very much resonated with me. The subject matter she deals with often goes unseen and is rumored to be controversially. Her documentation of the gritty underbelly of society drew me to conceptual understanding of the 1970s and 1980s in New York City. Many of the subcultures she photographed helped define motifs she would continue to base her photography in: love, gender, domesticity, oppression, dependency, and sexuality.
When I view her photographs, I am firstly stuck by how candid her photographs look. Most are unposed and free. Her snapshot aesthetic quality is highlighted by only using available light which immediately humanizes the shots. Most of these photos were really only meant to be seen by a private audience, or so those she was photographing believed. They were not taken with the intention of displaying them in a museum or as a fine work of art. They are real, bloody, often times unattractive by the strictest sense of the world, and seldom planned.
Color and light, I found, were very important to Goldin. Many of her photographs include a very bright color of some sort, leading the audience directly to a focal point. Other times this is achieved by shadowing and flight-like lighting leaving the only bright spots in the photo to be that of her subject. There is also a style she often experiments with that features one unanimous color.
When trying to create a photograph in the style of Goldin, my main focus began with the term subculture. I shuffled through my own life here at American University in search of some kind of seemingly unnoticed part of our lives, an aspect that many of us would not normally associate with our daily lives; and aspect that if someone wasn’t a student here would not understand. I decided to highlight our clear obsession with Greek life. Because taking any kind of photograph at a frat party would be totally impossible, I decided to instead highlight the even more looked over aspects of going out during the weekend here – getting ready. I like to call this the biddie subculture. I wanted to get a shot of a few of my frat-going friends getting ready for a night out but instead of capturing their finished product, I was more interested in the not-so-pretty process before hand. I wanted to make sure to not use flash on my camera in order to stay true to Goldin’s available light policy. I also was interested in highlighting a color. I wasn’t sure what the color would be but I asked my friends to wear similar colors in the hopes of one item, perhaps of makeup or accessory, to stand out. Finally, I wanted to make sure the photos were candid. I was able to achieve this by taking the photographs on a night they were actually going out, that way even if they felt posy they wouldn’t have time to just stand around and act like models. They had a job to do.
Much like in many of Goldin’s photographs, I tried to show a side of the culture surrounding me that was not normally showcased.
This is one of my favorite shots from the night.
In this shot, the three girls are focused on getting their makeup finished and finalizing any changes in accessories they decided on. The overwhelming color concept I was going for can be seen in the bright whites and yellows seen in the overhead lamp and wood. Some facets of the photo were happy accidents such as the colors white and yellow are in direct contrast with the dark color of the girls’ hair and the girl on the far upper right’s face is the only element in total focus which. When I told the girls who were in this photograph that I would ultimately use this shot for the assignment were disappointed because it was the most glamorous of the evening. That was done totally on purpose. The angle of the shot was also meant to suggest the not-so-structured and often shaky nature of getting ready and networking to go out.
Truthfully, I found the process of capturing a good shot to be very difficult. With the use of a mirror is was hard for me to not appear in the shot myself. It was also very tempting to use the flash on my camera. Had I, the flash of the camera would appear in each of the mirror shots. I felt as though the shot turned out interesting enough. I would have liked to have a larger variety of colors to choose from for their outfits, but I was very conscious of keeping the shot candid. I had a hard time trying not to think too hard when I was taking the photographs which proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. Nevertheless, I think for my first proper try at it, we got a good shot.
This was my second favorite shot from the evening, adorning similar aspects I highlighted in the first photograph.
And since they were there, I had some of my friends recreate one of Goldin’s most famous photographs.
Goldin’s original Tabboo and Jimmy Paul in the bathroom, 1991:
And my interpretations of it, AU style: