T SERIES: Friends Who Teach Each Other

An artist and a writer who, despite being at different stages of their lives, have forged a deep bond.

Article by Coco Romack

From left: Nan Goldin , artist; and Thora Siemsen, writer. Photographed at Goldin’s apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, on Jan 9, 2021. Photography by Jasmine Clarke.

Thora Siemsen

We met in December 2019 at Saluggi’s restaurant in TriBeCa, New York, when I interviewed Nan about the reissue of her 1993 book “The Other Side” and her last show at Marian Goodman Gallery in London. We talked for hours.

I flew home to Colorado the next day for the holidays and, when I got back to New York, we picked up where we’d left off. We started playing backgammon and began what I refer to as “film school”, where Nan teaches me about movies — we started with Hitchcock and Visconti, and everything starring Judy Holliday and Barbara Stanwyck.

When we heard about the impending lockdown, we had a conversation about what it would look like to quarantine together. I made the decision to move into her home in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, quickly, but it was the right one. I feel like myself with Nan: like an adult, safe. For her birthday last September, I took her to Holy Land USA, this run-down religious theme park in Connecticut that was in one of our favourite movies, “Wanda” (1970). Last summer, I went swimming for the first time since going on hormones. From a boat, Nan took a picture that is precious to me. Her photographs allow me to replay those moments when I felt beautiful.

Nan Goldin

I was very lucky Thora came into my life when she did. I hadn’t photographed a person in years. I was more inspired by the sky, or by going into my archive of tens of thousands of slides to make new pieces. It’s very intimate for me to photograph someone. I need to feel a deep connection, and that can become deeper through the process.

When I see somebody who’s beautiful and doesn’t know it, I feel an obligation to show them to themselves. At the beginning, Thora seemed very shy, but over the past year, I’ve watched her become more feminine. Thora has a great memory and has introduced me to many new authors, like Anne Moody and Sigrid Nunez. I turned her on to Patricia Highsmith. People assume we’re lovers, and I find that to be a limited understanding: we’re in very different stages of our lives, but we’ve found a level playing field. We’re addicted to backgammon, and spent all of lockdown playing. We help keep each other sober and sane.

A version of this article appears in print in our third edition, Page 118 of T Australia with the headline:
‘Friends Who Teach Each Other’
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