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Born in 1953, Nan Goldin was given her first camera when she was 15 years old while studying at Satya Community School in Boston, where she began taking polaroids of herself and those around her.

In 1973 she had her first solo show at Project, Inc., in Boston, which featured photographs of her friends within a community of drag queens. She graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1977 and moved to New York in 1978, where she continued to document her “extended family”. Soon she was presenting slide shows of her photographs accompanied by music in nightclubs and independent art spaces around the city. The images used in these slide shows became the subject of her seminal slide show and first book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. During the next several years, The Ballad grew into a 45-minute multimedia presentation with almost 700 photographs accompanied by an eclectic musical soundtrack.

In 1985 her work was included in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s biennial. A decade later, in 1996, a major retrospective of her work opened at the Whitney, and toured to museums throughout Europe. That same year a documentary about her life and work, I’ll Be Your Mirror, made in collaboration with Edmund Coulthard, was awarded a Teddy Award for Best Essay at the Berlin Film Festival. In 2001, a second retrospective of Goldin’s work, Le Feu Follet, was held at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and toured internationally as The Devil’s Playground. In 2023, a third retrospective This Will Not End Well, opened at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm and will travel internationally.

Goldin has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Commandeur des Arts et Des Lettres from the French government in 2006, the Hasselblad Award in 2007, the Edward MacDowell medal in 2012, the Lucie Award for Achievement in Portraiture in 2014 and the Centenary Medal Award from the Royal Photographic Society London in 2018. Her work has been published extensively.

Selected publications include The Other Side (1993), A Double Life (with David Armstrong, 1994), Tokyo Love (with Nobuyoshi Araki, 1995), I’ll Be Your Mirror (1997), Ten Years After (1997), The Devil’s Playground (2003), The Beautiful Smile (2008), Eden and After (2014) and Diving for Pearls (2016).

In 2017 the artist founded the group PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), which addresses the crisis of the ongoing opioid epidemic by targeting the pharmaceutical companies that have profited off the addictions and deaths of over half a million Americans. PAIN advocates for harm reduction, decriminalisation of drugs and life-saving treatments for drug users. Goldin's life and work as both an artist and an activist are the subject of Laura Poitras' documentary film All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, which received the Golden Lion Award at the 79th Venice International Film Festival.

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