Work on Monday: “Self-Portrait in Blue Bathroom” by Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin, "Self Portrait in Blue Bathroom, London 1980"
Nan Goldin, “Self Portrait in Blue Bathroom, London 1980.”

Today, Work on Monday looks at a haunting piece by photography icon Nan Goldin. “Self-Portrait in Blue Bathroom, London 1980” wasn’t shot in the Hamptons, or even this country, but Goldin has captured a number of her powerful images right here in East Hampton.

Work on Monday is a weekly look at one piece of art related to the East End, usually by a Hamptons or North Fork artist, living or dead, created in any kind of media. Join the conversation by posting your thoughts in the comments below and email suggestions for a future Work on Monday here.

Self-Portrait in Blue Bathroom, London 1980
Nan Goldin (b. 1953)
Dye destruction print
25 5/8 x 38 1/2 inches

This self portrait is deceptive in that it appears quite simple, even ordinary to some, but it is actually quite extraordinary. The blue bathroom—including blue tub, tiles, walls, rail and shampoo bottles—creates a muted space from which Goldin’s actual face, milky white skin and red hair boldly stand out. In the glass of a hanging mirror, her ghostly portrait is surrounded by blackness rather than the blue that should logically be reflected there. Here one begins to understand the photographer’s keen eye for light and skilled use of it on film.

Not only does Goldin appear starkly out of the mirror’s inky blackness—her camera nowhere in sight—she also wears a splash of intense light and thin lines of shadow across her face and chest. From somewhere outside the frame, this bright light also paints the wall below the mirror, illuminating and then dissipating, like an apparition merging Goldin and the room she inhabits.

Somehow, this photographer who is most famous for capturing the underbelly of New York City’s downtown scene—drugs, drag queens, disease and all—in the 1980s created something closer to the work of old masters with this image. We are witnessing a brief moment of peace and beauty in the chaos of Goldin’s time. It speaks to Rembrandt and Johan Vermeer more than her contemporaries or the darkness Goldin so often chronicled in the decades between 1976 and 1996.

Amidst her large body of excellent work, “Self-Portrait in Blue Bathroom” is a unique and special standout, one that elevates Goldin above the role of documentarian or photojournalist and into the esteem of a true fine artist.

See more Nan Goldin at

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