Photographer Nan Goldin has lived a life often defined by trauma – a tumultuous family life, a painful experience of addiction during the opioid crisis, a career and sense of self deeply affected by male control. Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras maps the intersection of worlds that makes Goldin a singular artist and activist.
Call All the beauty and bloodshed a “love letter to the movies” seems reductive, especially in the recent trend of feature-length fiction films paying homage to the silver screen. But Laura Poitras’ searing documentary, about the life and work of photographer Nan Goldin, is exactly that: an urgent portrait of the truly life-saving power of art, to honor and remember the dead, and to demand that the living Do more.
Goldin’s life is so rich that Poitras – whose sharp eye previously focused on Edward Snowden with the Oscar winner Citizenfour, and the US occupation of Iraq in My country, my country — chooses very specific moments to highlight. But she ends up shedding so much light on what makes Goldin so singular anyway. Goldin’s family was struck by tragedy when she was just 11, with her sister’s death by suicide; later she would lose many friends during the AIDS epidemic and the opioid crisis, and would suffer from addiction herself. On the strength of these experiences, Goldin became an activist in her artistic and militant practice. It’s hard not to be affected by everything she’s been through.
“The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency,” an exhibit first mounted in 1985, is a slideshow of many of Goldin’s greatest photos, spanning 45 minutes and over 800 images, and arguably the centerpiece of his career. Those who might have seen it when the exhibition came to the Tate in London or visited many other cultural institutions will recognize that it was made for the big screen, somehow gaining even greater poignancy and political force when woven into Poitras’ determined narrative. Here, Goldin is seen alongside the advocacy group she helped found, PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), in its mission to remove the Sackler family – who were involved with Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin – from any philanthropic contribution to art. establishments.
Art can change the world, Poitras and Goldin tell us with powerful results, celebrating both the undeniable beauty and all the deadly pain that comes with living a life you want to remember. Goldin takes pictures to make you believe her; Poitras made a film you will never forget.
More than a glimpse into a photographer’s work, All The Beauty cuts to the bone with its incandescent celebration of life and condemnation of those who threaten it. Art and activism are one.
The article is in French
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