Nan Goldin is running late. On a Thursday evening in the Theresa Lang Center, in a New School building on West 13th Street, the crowd—close to a hundred people—is growing restless. At the front of the room at a long plastic table, the other panelists have assembled: Benjamin Walker, the moderator and host of WFMU’s “Too Much Information”; author Lynne Tillman, whose petite frame is overwhelmed by an explosion of dark curls; French philosopher Ruwen Ogien, whose wisps of gray hair are messy and front-swept; French professor of aesthetics Carole Talon-Hugon, whose jet-black hair is combed back and secured with a leopard-print scarf; and a neatly dressed woman who is later revealed to be Talon-Hugon’s translator. A laptop on the table is connected to a large projection screen hanging above the stage. A folder is open on the computer, and file names are visible; the JPEGs have titles like “skinheadshavingsex.”
Goldin is probably best know for The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a collection of her photographs documenting her life and the lives of her friends—homosexuals and junkies, the poor and the marginalized—in the New York of the late seventies and early eighties. In one, titled “Nan one month after being battered,” Goldin faces the camera straight on; she’s wearing bright red lipstick, and her left eye is filled with blood, the area below it bruised a sickening brown. When Goldin arrives around 6:40 P.M., I find myself checking the face of the woman now walking toward the front of the room against my memory of the photograph. Her career is both remarkable and frightening for having provided everyone in the audience with that image as a point of comparison. She sits down and is immediately, endearingly apologetic.