Canadian fine art-photographer Dina Goldstein’s witty, over-the-top tableaus imagine wild, what if encounters between lofty pop and proselytizing icons and our earthly mortal coil.
The photographer’s past work in advertising is apparent in the intricately produced, cinematic and theatric images. However, a pedigree in photojournalism informs the heady topics taken up.
Social ills and identity issues stemming from sexism, patriarchy and the shift to secular modernity are inverted and refracted through Goldstein’s wry lens. The visual hyperbole, however, belies analogy for some very real modern-day quandaries.
You have a long history with photography, initially as a photojournalist. Did you come from a family of artists or journalists?
My father was a jeweler. He designed beautiful pieces but never considered himself an artist, more an artisan. As a child I was exposed to many journalists because my aunt worked at the press office in Jerusalem. I was enamored by these people who traveled the world bringing attention to important issues via photography and TV.
Yes, I love the political content from which your work never shies. Do your beginnings in Israel inform your work today?
Yes.When you grow up in a country like Israel, you are always confronted with politics and war. The conversations are part of day to day life and as a child you are surely affected by it. This experience definitely informs my work and the way that I look at the world.
You’ve stated that, in immigrating to Canada as a child, you were often made to feel the outsider. Has this informed your artwork, and how?
I always felt like an outsider. In 1976 Vancouver was very much a pulp and paper town with few immigrants, different from the current landscape.
In later years when I returned to Israel for summer vacations I felt out of place there, more Canadian than Israeli. So my dual identity was evident as a child and remains as an adult.
Perhaps my challenging childhood experiences led me to become a more independent and free thinker.
And, how has your earlier work in photojournalism and advertising informed your fine art series?
I started out as a photojournalist and traveled to war torn regions. I also photographed ads. Alongside, I created my own projects, focusing on sub cultures. My current work juxtaposes reality with fantasy; I examine themes of disillusionment and the realities of the human condition and this is definitely a result of what I observed in my past work as a journalist.
Working in advertising prepared me for leading a large crew, working with specific budgets and using narrative to create a basis for the tableau. Furthermore, Western society is so influenced by pop culture, which dictates how to look, what to like, and especially what to buy. Much of my work investigates the myth of perfection and the collective perception as influenced by pop culture.
What were your childhood media of choice when doing art?
Actually, as a child I was enamored by treasure hunting outdoors in pursuit of good finds. I would collect and make art with the found items.
Was having children a catalyst for some of the ideas in your series?
Jordan, my daughter, was three at the time and was just starting to get into the princess phase. I grew up in Israel in the early ’70’s and was never exposed to Disney. Around the same time my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The two events collided and made me wonder. I began to imagine what could happen to a princess after the happily ever after, dealing with challenges all modern woman face.
I created In The Dollhouse by observing how my children role played with Barbie dolls. This got me thinking about imposed gender roles and how young girls are subconsciously bombarded with messages of unachievable beauty ideals.
My main message is that this world is complex and everyone has his or her challenges. No one is exempt. What might seem ‘perfect’ is most likely not. Perfection is not stable or sustainable in nature and in life.
I feel you have some share-worthy thoughts on the relationship between ‘religious’ narratives and fairy tales as well…
Fairytales and religious narrative share many common themes usually connected to the three rites of passage: birth, initiation, and death. The characters are larger than life, and must go through a journey of trial and tribulation to achieve success. Miracles come in forms of the divine or magic. There are shape shifters and talking animals. The lessons repeat that there are no rewards without a price and temptation is a barrier to enlightenment or transformation of consciousness.
Religious narrative uses the same tools of storytelling but are perceived differently. People in all cultures embrace their beliefs as a way of life, sometimes completely dedicating themselves to a supernatural god, created by historical myth.
I look at religious narrative in the same way that I view fairytales. Religion lies more in the collective consciousness but through dogma it channels images which inevitably pass from the collective unconscious into the minds of people.
So, in my photography, I am interested in opening up a conversation about belief in the supernatural, within a contemporary context, while considering the forces of science, technology and commercialism.
As a mother myself, I can affirm that your series Gods of Suburbia seems like a viable way to introduce children to the topic of religion! How do you broach the topic with your kids?
We are traditionally Jewish and celebrate the holidays. We have not discussed the concept of a god or higher power at all with the girls, and decided that they should choose for themselves in what to believe. However, they understand that religion separates people into various groups with like minded belief. Jordan has been to one Bat Mitzvah and has decided that she would like one, I was quite surprised by this.
You have said that you ‘make’ as opposed to take photos. What is your typical process; the different elements of production that go into a series?
My ideas are mostly inspired and instinctual. Then, If I am serious, I study and review the subject. Sometimes I loosely draw out my concepts and introduce the idea to my husband or another trusted friend. To proceed is a huge commitment – my projects take upwards of two years to complete.
I come up with rough concepts for each piece before production for a clear ‘big picture’ – a vivid vision.
I assemble my cast and crew and consult with my makeup and costuming team. l scout locations for permanent backdrops for my scenarios. I work closely with my creative team; makeup and hair artists, costumers and prop-builders. Many are local craftsman and artists. These large shoots involve elaborate sets with crews largely made-up of photography and art students as well as volunteers from all walks of life.
To prepare for the shoots I shift focus to the tiny details. The collection of furniture and knick knacks, which I hand pick, play an important role in the telling of the story.
I usually photograph two images over a weekend. I then review and make decisions for post. I may reshoot or add an element that will help shape and complete the image. I work with a dynamo post team that, despite my limited budgets and huge ambitions, can make anything possible!
Did working on a budget while self-producing your first series Fallen Princesses harm or help the series?
Working with a low budget pushed me to find other like-minded crew and craftspeople that wanted to work on a creative project for the sheer love of it! I used (and still do) my power of persuasion to shoot in locations in and around town. Vancouver and it’s surrounding neighborhoods offer a lot of character. The city has been a movie making hub for over twenty-five years and the result is loads of great talent.
What are you working on now?
I am in the middle stages of shooting my new series Modern Girl. The series extrapolates upon past themes such as commercialism and identity, within Western culture, by creating photographic diptych portraits in the style of the famous “pin-up girl” advertising posters of 1930s China Shanghai.
I’m inspired by this era for two main reasons. First, it heralded the emergence of women as individuals, as they began to break away from centuries of oppressive Confucian tradition that demanded total filial piety alongside such crippling beauty practices as foot binding. The shift to this popular image of the modern woman signaled the commoditization of the everyday, and de-radicalization of modernity.
As a female artist, what do you wish to convey in your woman-centric images?
Throughout history the focus in storytelling has been on men and their outlook of this world. Women’s desires and interests have been marginalized. I feel lucky to live in Western society where women’s roles are at least now more prominent. I take full advantage, creating art that fully expresses my thoughts and opinions. I create art with fictional characters that has elements of real life. What you see within the work is a moment in time within the fictional life or these characters.
Barry Dumka pointed out in his essay that while Barbie has lost her head, she is Barbie and that head can pop right back on. Unfortunately humans don’t have that luxury. In my tableau, princesses are thrust into everyday life within realistic environments. They too have to figure out how to function and thrive within a complex world.
You have a wonderful sense of humor throughout your visual dialogues into ongoing plights of women and of humanity itself. Where does this come from?
I try to keep everything in perspective. Life can get overwhelming and too serious. I use humor to cope with all that the world throws at me and also to create conversation about modern society ́and how we perceive it.
– Larissa Zaharuk
To view Dina Goldstein work here: http://www.dinagoldstein.com