FRAGILE BEAUTY

Here I am striking a pose in a room full of Nan Goldin prints at the Victoria and Albert museum. This room is part of an amazing selection of Sir Elton John and David Furnish's photography collection, curated to form an exhibition called Fragile Beauty. There are 340 works from the world's major photographers, part of Elton and David's 7,000 piece archive. The show opens with a huge image of Avedon's Beekeeper - the naked torso of a hairless man with bees settled on his pale body - and goes on to disarm and astonish. Wrapt, I wandered through each room. Everything is immediate and surprising. Suddenly I found myself in a room which looked like it was someone's place. The walls were covered with unframed prints, almost as though they had been stuck on a bedroom wall. The feeling was of intimacy: the 149 photographs were by Nan Goldin from her Thanksgiving series - pictures of her friends, a shrine of tenderness to people who have died, or survived difficult lives ; revealing portraits of intense situations, none of them voyeuristic, instead documented with rigorous love. I went to a talk given by Nan Goldin at an arts festival in Mexico City in 2018. I traveled there with a boyfriend for what was supposed to be a restoring romantic trip - but it was a depressing assertion of how little there was to restore. The lecture by Nan Goldin on the other hand was the most inspiring and invigorating experience. She was in the process of her extraordinary exposure of the Sackler family and their cynical exploitation of addiction with the painkiller Oxycontin. I remember her saying she had become addicted overnight - something which was reiterated by so many of the contributors to the documentary. Nan was so matter of fact and the simplicity of her objective - to free people from being duped into becoming Opioid slaves - was very affecting. She didn't try to influence or persuade anyone. She told us the facts and what she had discovered. The spirit of this courage, this artistic candour permeates the whole of the Fragile Beauty exhibition. It is a relief to see images of people, and made by people who have gone up against oppressive power and authority. 
 
 
Photo by Saffron Aldridge

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