All the Beauty and the Bloodshed: The Highest Stakes

<em>All the Beauty and the Bloodshed: </em>The Highest Stakes

Some choose to see life through the lens of a reductive fundamentalism, while others believe in the mystery of the unconscious and the power of the fragment. The conflict between these two highly polarized sensibilities can be understood in artistic, spiritual, and political terms, and today, in our protofascist world, this struggle has life-or-death, mass-murder-on-earth, future-of-the-planet stakes. Throughout their careers, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and artist Nan Goldin have both confronted this crisis by siding with complexity in formal, emotional, relational, and visual ways, though each brings her own individual approach. Their divergent perspectives organically complement each other in the documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022), a remarkable collaboration between two of the most fascinating women of our time.

Revered around the world, Goldin’s photographs have a deceptive simplicity, which is part of the reason they continue to inspire others to make art. In All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Poitras’s profoundly emotional portrait of Goldin’s life, we come to understand how the artist’s vulnerability is the foundation of her rare, almost superhuman respect for her subjects. The people Goldin shoots are outrageous, beautiful, self-destructive, creative, sexy, and sexual; they are outcasts and dropouts, some with extraordinary visions, some on the brink of tragic demise.

Across a lifetime of capturing the world before her, Goldin has transformed photography and, by extension, advertising. She has also provided artists, especially other women, with new possibilities for their practices, subject matter, and self-understanding. Without ever condescending to her subjects, she fills them with meaning they might not have actually possessed on their own. And while she makes us fall in love with them, what we are ultimately loving when we engage with her work is Goldin herself. She has a transcendent ability to process pain, no matter the circumstance, and as Poitras’s documentary reveals, there has been a lot of pain, and a lot of circumstance, in Goldin’s life.

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