Public Media Arts Hub

Photographer Nan Goldin's Brief But Spectacular take on survival


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

John Yang: Nan Goldin is a noted photographer and activist whose work is documented LGBTQ subcultures, the AIDS crisis, and even the opioid epidemic. Most recently Goldin worked with the subject of a documentary, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. Tonight, Goldin shares her Brief but Spectacular take on Survival.

Nan Goldin, Photographer and Activist: My work is much less intentional than people credit it to be, I never set anything up. I never decide what I`m going to document. I photographed what was in front of me and what was important to me. And that was my friends, and their lives and my life.

When AIDS hit my community, in 1983, no one knew what was going on. There were no treatments. People with AIDS were completely ostracized. And they were dying in front of me. And there was nothing I could do. And somehow I thought photographing people enough would keep them alive. But it showed me what I had lost.

I still look at the pictures of all my friends who died and they`re still with me. My work always comes out of my life rather than my life coming for the photos. In those days, my pictures were a diary of my life. I was given OxyContin after wrist surgery, and I became addicted within days. And it took over my life.

I went to a clinic in 2017. What kept me sober was my political action. I started a group called PAIN, Prescription Addiction Intervention Now and our first goal was to bring down the Sackler family. The Sacklers made and distributed OxyContin very aggressively across America. It was the same family whose names I had seen on the walls of museums my whole life, and I decided I wanted to bring them down.

Our first action was at the Met, we threw 1000 Fake bottles of OxyContin into the water around the Temple of Dendur, which was the Sacklers` jewel in the Met. It took about, I guess, two years to get all the museums to stop taking money and then to start taking down the name. The Louvre was the first, the Guggenheim eventually, and then it was like a domino effect.

I think at my age, you realize that you have a limited amount of time, and that you need to live it as fully as possible. All the kind of immortality you have in your younger life, 20s 30s 40s all of that you lose because you realize life is precious, and you don`t have a lot more of it. And my healing consists of I don`t know, I don`t know if I`m healing. What does it mean?

I`m a survivor and I have survived the AIDS crisis, the overdose crisis, prejudices and stigmas that have been attached to me in my work.

And I`ve survived. I`m Nan Goldin, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on survival.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.