Following the death of her sister, Nan Goldin left home at the age of thirteen. While still a teenager, she began to photograph the people closest to her. Eventually she went to college in Boston, studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Her work first attracted international attention when Ballad of Sexual Dependency - in which she recorded her own life and that of her friends in the nineteen-seventies and -eighties, as they moved between drugs, partying, sex, and violence - was shown at the Whitney Biennale in 1985. She took part in the Venice Biennale in 2011.
Her work was included in the exhibition 'Dancing with Myself' (2018) at Punta della Dogana.