6 Famous Photos That Showcase 1980s NYC Youth Culture

In the opening pages of her iconic book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, photographer Nan Goldin writes: "I often fear that men and women are irrevocably strangers to each other, irreconcilably unsuited... But there is an intense need for coupling in spite of it all." What follows is a series of photos of Goldin's friends, lovers, and family (a group she refers to as her "tribe"), living out their youth in 1980s New York City.
The photos were originally presented as a slideshow set to music in 1985. Amid images of her friends randomly coupling, fighting, and getting high, Goldin included one of herself, taken after her lover had beaten her. To this day, it remains one of the most memorable photographs in the series — partly for its shock value, but also because it quite efficiently sums up what Goldin aimed to do with the entirety of The Ballad.
Goldin writes: "Even if relationships are destructive, people cling together… The tension this creates seems to be a universal problem: the struggle between autonomy and dependency." As the members of Goldin's tribe pursue another lover, another high, another good time, they ultimately seek intimacy. It's an ongoing search, and Goldin's photos would have you believe that sacrifices must be made if you find yourself getting close to that kind of relationship.

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
is available for purchase here, and the 30th anniversary of Goldin's seminal work will be celebrated this year with a silent auction in New York City on Monday, October 26.

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