Goldin’s strong compositions sometimes let us forget the fragility of the bodies within them. But over and over again she shows us that behind the bravado is a body. A photograph of her own beaten face looking unflinchingly at the camera, her pupil swimming in a pool of blood, is among the most famous in the series. Goldin, as she said herself, didn’t capture these photos as an expression of nostalgia. They depict her life, in all its shades, and they assert the humanity of those who lived it with her. For similar reasons, Goldin rejects the idea that Ballad captured people who existed on the margins of society. These individuals, threatened by those in positions of power who viewed them as deviant, existed at the center of her world. Even as Goldin captured smiling queer couples, Ronald Reagan refused to mention AIDs publicly, let alone mobilize a response.
Since then much has changed for the better. But things can change without growing distant. Today, a heroin epidemic rages through much of the country, and we are all too frequently reminded that the lives of LGBTQ people are precarious, and that the very spaces they look to for safety can become targets. In equal measure, we witness the resilience of friendship, solidarity, and people coming together to find joy. Sitting in a dark room watching the photographs of Ballad flit by as the Velvet Underground wails, one feels that the past is as close as it is far away.