Nan Goldin Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! undressing, NYC 1991

Artwork details

Artist
Nan Goldin born 1953
Title
Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! undressing, NYC
Date 1991
Medium Photograph, colour, Cibachrome print, on paper mounted onto board
Dimensions Image: 1015 x 695 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1997
Reference
P11513
Not on display

Summary

This is a large colour photograph of two drag queens, known as Jimmy Paulette and Taboo!, in a New York appartment. Jimmy Paulette is standing, leaning against a doorframe, looking directly at Goldin's camera. Taboo! is visible in a long mirror on the right hand side of the image, sitting on the floor engrossed with something beyond the mirror's frame. He has been caught in profile, his face pointing towards the lower centre of the photograph. Light above him accentuates the powerful musculature on his bare neck, shoulders and upper arms. His masculine body and closely shorn head contrast dramatically with his heavy eye makeup. Jimmy Paulette is still half in drag. In another photograph taken during the same period, Misty and Jimmy Paulette in a taxi, NYC 1991 (Tate P78046), he appears fully costumed, complete with a gold bra and a blonde wig. In this image his glamorous makeup is intact but he has removed his wig. He wears the same white stretchy net top. Marks on the skin around his waist indicate that he was previously wearing something tight, now replaced by cut-off black shorts. The scene has a spontaneous atmosphere as though Goldin, witnessing a domestic ritual, has casually picked up her camera to record it. Goldin first encountered drag queens in 1972 and quickly became obsessed. She explained:

I was eighteen and felt like I was a queen too … they became my whole world.
Part of my worship of them involved photographing them. I wanted to pay
homage, to show them how beautiful they were. I never saw them as men dressing
up as women, but as something entirely different - a third gender that made more
sense than either of the other two. I accepted them as they saw themselves; I had
no desire to unmask them with my camera.
(Quoted in The Other Side, p.5.)

In the early 1970s Goldin and her gay friends were inspired by the camp decadence portrayed in such artists' films as Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures 1961. Their social lives revolved around glamorous dressing up in order to live out the fantasy of reconstructed identities. Goldin's earliest photographic work in black and white comprises portraits of room-mates and close friends transformed through the effects of drag glamour. Goldin photographed them at home and in The Other Side, the bar in her home town of Boston which was frequented by drag queens. She developed her personal, spontaneous snapshot aesthetic in this environment following the precedent of Hungarian-born George Brassai (1899-1984) who photographed Paris night club scenes in the 1920s. This initial series of images was interrupted when Goldin went to study art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1974. Throughout the 1980s, while she was living in New York, Goldin continued to socialise with and photograph people of ambiguous gender, although her main work during this period, documented in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency 1981, was about the difficulty of heterosexual relationships. In 1990 she began a new series of images. She recalled: 'I met a whole new crowd of queens in N.Y. in 1990 … My old obsession was reawakened. I developed one fixation after another. I photographed my new friends constantly … After years of experiencing and photographing the struggle of the two genders with their codes and definitions and their difficulties in relating to each other, it was liberating to meet people who had crossed these gender boundaries.' (Quoted in The Other Side, p.6.) Misty and Jimmy Paulette in a taxi, NYC, like Jimmy Paulette and Taboo! undressing, NYC 1991 (Tate P11513), is part of a large series of colour photographs of glamorous drag queens taken in New York, Paris and Berlin in 1991. These are compiled with other photographs of people of ambiguous gender in Goldin's third published book, named after the Boston bar, The Other Side. Goldin has said: 'I've met other women who are infatuated with queens and transsexuals but I still haven't found a definition. There is a sense of freedom in having a desire that has never been labelled. As a bisexual person, for me the third gender seems to be the ideal.' (Quoted in The Other Side, p.7.)

Further reading:
Nan Goldin: I'll be your Mirror, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1996, reproduced (colour) p.308
Nan Goldin, The Other Side, Manchester, England 1993, reproduced (colour) p.80
Iwona Blazwick, Simon Wilson, Tate Modern: the handbook, London 2000, p.161, reproduced (colour) p.161

Elizabeth Manchester
December 2001