Nan Goldin Responce

In Nan Goldin’s photography, she documents her life, and the lives of her friends, many of whom are homosexuals and junkies. She wants her work as she quotes “to be about every man and every relationship and the potential of violence in every relationship.” By documenting her personal experiences and those of her friends, she shows the relationships of one group of people with each other. One way she depicts the effect of relationships on people is through the facial expressions of her and her friends. For example, in David and Butch Crying at Tin Pan Alley, New York City and Nan on Brian’s Lap, Nan’s Birthday, New York City, Goldin and her friends are forcing smiles on their faces, in order to convince themselves and others they are happy within their relationships. In many of Goldin’s photographs as well, she shows herself and her friends looking for love and happiness through intimate settings, but there expressions reveal that they have not truly found it.  For example in Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City, Nan lays on the bed gazing at her lover while he ignores her. This image shows the tension between them and the possibility that Brian’s only interested in Nan to release his sexual impulses.  I also believe that in many of her photographs, she is commenting on how men are looking for sexual pleasure with women.  For example, in Buzz and Nan at the Afterhours, New York City, the African American is clearly looking at Nan’s breasts while in Nan and Dickie in the York Motel, New Jersey, Dickie puts his hand near Nan’s pubic area. 

Goldin’s style in her photographs contain a snapshot feel to them, which also adds to her documentary and spontaneous concept of the presentation.   Her use of the flash in some of her images and the little attention to the composition expresses her idea because she wants her images to look like they are not staged, but merely capturing a moment in time. Also, the harsh colors created in her images helps express the drama seen in her work.

Although her snapshot style brings forth her concept behind these images, it does not show what technical photographic talent she might have, which is one of the reasons I do not like her work.  These images remind me of snapshot pictures on Facebook and to me represent minimal effort in taking these images and the appearance that anyone could have taken these photos. I also do not like the images because they are too graphic and vulgar for me.  These images show actions that are private acts, which makes me uncomfortable, because I feel like a voyeur and am intruding.  Possibly, this is part of her intent and therefore is an indication of the effectiveness of the photographs in showing the lack of fulfillment and pain we experience in our relationships, but nonetheless I do not enjoy them. Despite my dislike of her work, I do not believe these should be censored, because I believe everyone has the right to express his or her opinion. Although the content of theses images is offensive, I also do not believe they are pornographic. These images are vulgar, but not pornographic because they do not arouse any sexual impulses in me; instead I am repelled by her work.

One aspect I find interesting is both Robert Mapplethorpe’s and Nan Goldin’s work focused on the gay community and were both repelled by viewers supposedly due to the nudity and sexual acts represented.  However, could the real reason the work was suppressed be due to their depiction of a group of people rejected from society due to their differences?  Society does not like for them to be portrayed because it exposes their existence and gives them voice.

Robert Frank’s The Americans

In Robert Frank’s, The Americans, his use of contrast and facial expressions gives the scene a more dramatic feel, helping Frank convey a feeling of sadness and sorrow in his images. His images also show the emotional content in a turbulent time in American history. Although his images were not well accepted when they were first exhibited, they have had a large affect. Americans were possibly revolted at these images initially because they were shocked by how he portrayed Americans. Frank shows the America people in their daily lives, expressing in stark images that not everyone was living the American Dream, which was promoted in popular magazines. His images brought up contemporary issues of the time that needed resolution in America, making people aware of what was happening or not happening in society. By capturing the reality of life in America, I believe these images helped contribute to changing the course of American history because it made people see others they did not know existed or had ignored and realize that not everyone, even celebrities, were living the American Dream. 

Frank’s images also contain symbols that are contemporary to the 1950’s. In Trolley-New Orleans, Frank captures Americans on a trolley; however, this image is also a symbol of segregation as African Americans are sitting in the back of the trolley.  The white bars on the trolley symbolize imprisonment, as many Americans feel trapped in their living conditions and cultural taboos.  

Also, Elevator-Miami Beach shows a sense of bondage.The elevator monitor is contrasted with the people getting off the elevator due to their sense of motion. Her static pose and facial expression show that she is frozen in her position in society while others are rapidly moving ahead of her.

In Movie Premiere-Hollywood, the central subject of the composition is out of focus and instead the focus is on the crowd gazing at her. By having the crowd in focus, Frank’s image comments on peoples interest in celebrities and that the celebrity shown is manufactured. She is out of focus because she has lost her true identity and become what producers and the public want her to be. He shows that even those with fame and fortune are not actually living the American dream as society believes, but also have pain in their lives as exhibited on her face. 

A few of Franks images also portray common jobs occupied by African Americans at this time. For example, Charleston, South Carolina captures an African American nanny taking care of a Caucasian baby, possibly symbolizing that African Americans were only considered able to provide support  for Caucasians, the dominant race. Funeral-St. Helena, South Carolina, depicts only the African American chauffeurs of those attending a funeral. Frank is possibly commenting on the fact that African Americans at this time could only obtain certain jobs, jobs Caucasians would not want.

In many of Frank’s images, there is a sense of dehumanization. For example, in Parade-Hoboken, New Jersey, Political Rally-Chicago, and Rodeo-New York City, the people in the images have their faces obscured. Frank may have wanted to also impersonalize these images in order for the viewer to understand that the issue being portrayed is happening throughout our country, not to just one person. In Rodeo-New York City, Frank depicts a cowboy on the East coast. He appears out of place as cowboys are normally seen in the West, but he could possibly be in New York City looking for work.  This image could be commenting on that many Americans are out of work and are traveling long distances to find a job.

Although these images still have the same meaning they did in the 1950’s, as time passes, they are losing some of the original edge and tension they had during the time they were first exhibited. However, some of the meaning will never change. For example, some symbols can transcend time such as facial expressions and the dehumanization that still exists.

Weegee, Summer, The Lower East Side, 1937, ICP Collection

Weegee, Summer, The Lower East Side, 1937, ICP Collection


Weegee’s photograph initially sparked my interest due to its contrast of black and white. I enjoy seeing photographs that have this high contrast and are not more modest variations of gray. I feel this large range of tones evokes more emotion. His photograph depicts a group of children playing in water springing from a fire hydrant in a 20th century urban setting. I also like how the composition keeps my interest. My eye is constantly looking throughout the photograph, not just at one focal point. At first glance, my eye goes directly to the girl’s expression of getting soaked in the back with water. My eye is then drawn to the child putting an object in front of the hydrant, sending a spray of water across the image. This spray of water and the sidewalk in the background leads my eye diagonally across the image to the other children standing in a staggered slightly diagonal line. What also interests me is how the photograph creates a sense of motion with the slight diagonal lines created from the spray of water and the line of children. The image also contains motion with a few of the children running from the water, therefore making the image more playful.  

The water gushing from the fire hydrant symbolizes to me summer as this was common in large cities during this time, such as New York where this photo was taken. Someone would open fire hydrants for children to cool off with on hot summer days. I like that this image captures a glimpse of a moment, like a memory. The children’s smiles and expressions on their faces show a sense of gaiety and are a symbol of the carefree life of childhood, before the worries of adulthood have set in. It also reminds me of going to Crown Center in Kansas City, Missouri during the summer and watching children run through the fountain. I especially enjoy the expressions of the girl and two boys who are being sprayed in the back with cold water. There expressions of surprise and laughter remind me of family photographs. I also like that this image tells the viewer what is going on, a narrative, without directly stating. This image conveys laughter and innocence that induces the memories of childhood among the viewer. Even the adults watching in the background of the image are possibly reminded of their childhood moments and see the symbolism. When looking at this image, it evokes me with a feeling of joy and nostalgia of a simpler time with simpler joys. What I come away with from this picture is a feeling of the joy of a childhood summer in time of innocence. I see this photograph as a universal image for Americans. It is clear what is happening, even though it is taken from a different decade, by its portrayal of an idyllic time not only for the children, but even for the adults.