Documentarian Sabine Lidl’s intimate portrait of New York photographer Nan Goldin is as uncompromising and unvarnished as the snapshots that have come to define Goldin as arguably one of the most influential, celebrated and controversial photographers of her generation.
Goldin’s work was first exhibited in the 70s but she burst onto the art scene with The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a multimedia presentation of over 900 photographs taken between 1979 and 1986 that captured an unflinching, candid record of herself, her friends and her lovers, including drug addicts, prostitutes and misfits from New York and Europe’s hedonistic underground and gay subculture. By the 90s, many of her subjects had succumbed to AIDS. In ‘I Remember Your Face‘ Lidl follows Goldin — almost 60 when the footage was lensed — on a nostalgic journey as she travels from Paris to Berlin, visiting old haunts and reconnecting with friends, recounting the details of previous encounters and espousing wry observations on topics as diverse as Evil as a religious belief, the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, the impact of her sister’s suicide and the joy of giving a hummer. The result is a personal, incautious and thoroughly engaging view of the artist at work and at play.
‘Nan Goldin: I Remember Your Name‘ screens as part of the 2014 Kino! Festival of German Films at the Quad Cinema Daily between June 13-19, 2014. We spoke with Sabine Lidl about making the film, her relationship with Nan, how her favorite cities influences her work and much more.
Find More Information & Tickets to ‘Nan Goldin: I Remember Your Face’ – HERE
When were you first introduced to Nan Goldin? Why did you feel you wanted to make a feature length film about her?
At the time there was another Director trying to get in touch with Nan and do a documentary on her. I was also around but not in the subject, however I had many mutual friends, including Christine Fenzi who is in the film. After a while Nan and that Director found out they did not quite connect and Nan was also not too sure about the Documentary being about her life. She did not really want to make a film about her life. She hates being in front of the camera so for her it is always easier to make it about her friends. It was very important for her to not be the main subject of the film. When we decided to do the film we said it has to be based in Berlin because she had some of her greatest times in the city and loved it very much. Since my Producer and I were friends with different people we could have them get us in touch with Nan.
I came into the subject because I was working with my camera so I am always independent. If there is a situation I can be there in 5 minutes.
When you first took on the project how did you want to approach its narrative?
For me it was Nan’s life. Also, in her pictures it is always about her family. She needs that feeling with her friends in order to feel herself. It was also very important for me to see how she worked since she does not do traditional “work” She is always working in between. She is always in progress and with a lot of ideas She is a little bit like a filmmaker in this respect. It is always the little things in between that shows this. Everything is alive with her.
Was there a particular experience in making this film that stood out to you?
Nan is always a surprising person. Coming to Torino, I did not know what to think. It was the first time I came into this subject and we had just started. We started without knowing when the journey would end. It started with a phone call on a Friday night asking if I wanted to come the next day. I was in Torino the next day! I got to the hotel and the first person I met was her, very nice, assistant Tom. Nan was not available so we waited and talked and became friends in a way. Then I found out that there was an exhibition, but not of her photo’s. It was about some of her art collections. It was a totally unexpected aspect of the film.
What was the most difficult aspect of getting this film completes?
When you shoot like I did, in a very personal way, it would be to see the other Nan. If there was a film team around you, good light and makeup, things would look different. Sometimes you feel insecure that it is too personal. Sometimes I was a bit insecure about potentially missing the other side of the story. This was a mixture I had to find during editing.
Nan has strong association with the cities of New York, Berlin and Paris. What are some of the reasons those cities have embraced her and her work, alongside her own reciprocation of those feelings?
The most important cities for her are New York and Berlin. Paris is nice to live but has not had a big influence in her work. This is my view when you ask me. In a way, it is not important where she is. She is more of an inside person than an outside one. The most important thing is where she is connecting with people. She is always meeting new people. She is always in touch with people. She can smoke a cigarette on the street and after 2 seconds there is a person with whom she has engaged in conversation.
Can you describe her work? How does her work become cross-generational? What are some of the characteristics of her work that separate her from other photographers?
I am just a documentary filmmaker so who cares what I think about it. For me, personally, it is the humanity and the very feminine, sensitive depictions. When you read a book and the writer makes it seem to easy to write, but you know how difficult it is. Nan’s photos make people think they can do it also. She has always been a bit different view of things. She can immediately check the lighting, or the way to smile. It is her gift.
There is a passing sequence in the film where Nan exclaims how she feels out of place in an overly digitized world. Did you have any extended conversations about her feelings towards the transition to digital photography?
It is always a big theme for her. She has a small digital camera, but it is a new change in her life. In a way she does not care because she does her pictures in her own way. She is not interested in them “technically”; she feels the moment. The digital also provides a big opportunity for convenience. It makes them much more accessible. Of course, she prefers the alternative.
What are your personal favorite works from Nan Goldin?
There are so many. Since I know her and all her people I see things in a deeper way. For me, though, it is how she works with kids. In a way it was unexpected. It is a pure instinct she has. It is amazing what she can see.
– Interview conducted, edited & transcribed by Tanja Tlatlik