this issue contains
>> The VANITY of Allegory
>> Interview with Nan Goldin
>> An Eye to the Self
>> Confess All: Gillian Wearing

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April in the window, N.Y.C., 1983
Deutsche Bank Collection

Your work was launched by a loss: your sister committed suicide in 1965. She was eighteen years old at the time, and you were eleven. You found your way to deal with this traumatic experience by documenting your life, the life of your family, and later your chosen family of friends.

But at that time I was not conscious that it would start with my sister’s death. I was only conscious of that later. My first photography was of my chosen family, not of my own family. David [Armstrong] and Suzanne [Fletcher] are the first people I photographed. I was fifteen or sixteen, I had left my family at fourteen. I was silent then. Photography was my first voice, my first way of communicating. For a few years in my teens I couldn't talk. I grew up knowing that my sister’s life was being revised. Things were being said, like this didn’t happen or she didn’t do that. As a small child I started to keep a written diary so that nobody could say I didn’t do that or say that, because I saw that happen with my sister. And so when I got a camera, I felt that now I could really leave proof of my life.

Kee in bed, E. Hampton, N.Y., 1988
Deutsche Bank Collection

Why did your parents put her in a psychiatric clinic?

My sister started to rebel very early and she started to go out with boys. The worst crime you could commit in those days was to become pregnant outside of marriage. So my parents were really afraid that she would shame them by getting pregnant. I was the person she confided in. She actually didn’t lose her virginity until she was eighteen. They didn’t know that. I just told them that last year. They thought she was having sex all along. When they tried to stop her from going out with boys, she refused. With everything else she gave in to them, like the way they dressed her and tried to make her into this perfect little girl. She was so hungry for some affection. She wasn’t given any love in the family. My mother thought she was a whore and a tramp. They were so concerned about what the neighbors thought.

Munich 2005
Photo: Piotr Nathan

Have your feelings for your parents changed now?

For the first time after my sister’s death, I started to really love them when I got clean in 1988. Then I was angry about them again last summer, after I had read the hospital reports about my sister Barb[ara]. It’s OK again. They’re 90, and there’s no more time to resolve things. My father suffered his whole life from my sister’s death, my mother's life was very different..

There’s one photograph of your parents that I like very much. They’re both laughing, but behind their laughter is a kind of darkness.

I’m glad you can see that. My father took a lot of photos. When I look at his old work, I see that it’s very beautiful. He took lots of pictures of my sister because he thought she was very beautiful. To him, the most important thing about women is beauty. He photographed my sister constantly until she rebelled, and then he only took about a dozen more pictures of her. He didn’t find her attractive anymore.

John M. on the porch, Boston, 2005
©Nan Goldin, Courtesy Galerie Srüth Magers, Köln, München

You’re working on a film about your sister – is it the beginning of something new?

Yes, it’s the last big thing I want to do about myself, then I want to focus away from myself. I want to make films based on other people’s writings that are very close to my experiences. Somebody I really love – J. T. Leroy – wrote a book about being a prostitute, for instance. I wasn’t a prostitute as a child, but I know a lot about that life. Or Joyce Carol Oates wrote a novel about being a young girl and having an affair with her uncle. I had an affair when I was ten with my 20 year-old cousin that went on for two years. I feel I could make a film out of that book. I want to make films that are not me, me, me. But I still want to make the film about my sister. I did hours of interviews with my oldest brother, my therapist, and all these other people to make the movie, but then I just couldn’t do it. I have to wait for my parents to die. It’s just too painful.

Jabalowe napping, Luxor, Ägypten, 2003
©Nan Goldin, Courtesy Galerie Srüth Magers, Köln, München

Which film directors are important for you?

Cassavetes and Fassbinder particularly – those two I feel closest to. They cause me the most pain and therefore I think they’re the best. They both worked over and over again with a group of people they knew very well, and they both worked from their own life experience and from real anguish. Their films cause me real physical pain.It's almost unbearable. I love The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things by Asia Argento. She also stars in it. Her film was never properly released. I saw it at the Centre Pompidou at two o’clock in the morning. It’s based on the novel by J. T. Leroy that describes how his mother kind of turned him into a female prostitute. Claire Denis is really important to me as a film maker. I love all her films. She dedicated her film Friday Night to me. I love Louis Malle's early films, also Fred Kelemen's movies and Bruno Dumont, Thomas Vinterberg, the Dardenne brothers and the film Los Muertos by Lisandro Alonso.

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