There’s a universal truth that I discovered when I started my podcast: everyone has a story. This truth was driven home recently when I met Dina Goldstein. We were at a children’s birthday party, and we talked about our kids and the weather and that sort of thing. When my daughter and I were leaving, her dog Taco jumped into my car and I had to get her to come rescue him. I knew she was a photographer, because she was taking some photos, but I didn’t understand what kind of photographer.
Later, I happened to come across Dina’s website, and I recognized her images because they’ve gone viral. I just didn’t make the connection at the party. Her portfolio includes a lot of amazing work, but her two personal projects, Fallen Princesses and In the Dollhouse, really stand out for me. I would describe them, but if a picture’s worth a thousand words (and these ones definitely are) it would take a novel, so go look at them if you haven’t seen them already.
I was thrilled to have the chance to interview Dina recently, today I’m sharing that with you.
Image courtesy Dina Goldstein, from In the Dollhouse
Conversation with Photographer Dina Goldstein
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your family?
My family came to Vancouver in 1976 from Israel. I didn’t speak English until I was eight. I grew up on Vancouver’s West Side and now I have made my home on the East Side. I live with my husband Jonas and my two girls Jordan (seven) and Zoe (three).
How did you get into photography?
What began as an interest in taking better photos led to a 20 year professional career in photography. I started photography at 23; I was young and very eager. At the time I was surrounded by all kinds of artists: musicians, actors, painters, photographers. I had a world of material to photograph. I set up a studio in my apartment and went for it.
I worked part time at a photo supply store and in my spare time photographed anything and everything. I could get discounts at the store on equipment and processing so it really helped me out.
You have a video that says you initially wanted to pursue photojournalism – what was it about that that appealed to you?
I originally wanted to document real life and journalism seemed a good choice for me. In many ways it suited my outgoing and perhaps ‘pushy’, ‘won’t take no for an answer’ personality.
I did travel to the West Bank and Gaza and photographed people living in refugee camps.
It was great while I was shooting but when I wasn’t it was quite isolating. I learned a lot about myself on these trips and decided that I should pursue my career closer to home.
When I got back from my travels I began to shoot anything and anyone! I worked for some weekly papers and went after magazine work. I photographed for almost every magazine in Canada and many from the US and Europe. I also photographed many people in business. Eventually I got advertising work, which led to more creative projects.
You consider yourself a visual storyteller. What makes a good visual story?
A good visual story draws you in and then keeps you thinking! If it’s not an obvious message at first then it should continue to tell the story as you notice the details.
I’m really interested in your personal projects. What was the first one you did?
From the very beginning I always shot subjects and events that interested me.
I would follow an event for many years (like the Gay Pride Parade, Chinese New Year, Polar Bear Swim) or I would wander around with my camera at the old age home that my mother works at. My first big effort was TRACKRECORD. I spent two years, every weekend, at Hastings Racecourse, photographing the regular gamblers. Real characters!
It was an amazing experience learning all about horses and horse racing while meeting those unique people.
Image courtesy of Dina Goldstein, from Fallen Princesses
I want to hear about Fallen Princesses – what inspired that?
Jordan, my daughter, was three at the time and was just starting to get into the ‘Princess phase’. Princesses were everywhere and I too was getting introduced to them. (I grew up in Israel in the early 70’s, and was not exposed to Disney at all.)
Just around the same time my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.The two events collided and made me wonder what a Princess would look like if she had to battle a disease, struggle financially or deal with aging. I began to imagine what could happen to the Princesses later in life and after the happily ever after. Naturally they would have to deal with challenges that all modern woman face.
I saw the photos for In the Dollhouse, and they’re amazing. Where did that come from?
In the Dollhouse is just a progression of me following my two daughters. Playing with dolls is a way for girls to role play and pretend.
I started thinking about the messages that they were receiving from their Ken and Barbie dolls. Of course Barbie is an impossibly proportional doll and Ken has become so effeminate that he is barely recognizable. I let my imagination go wild and created alternative worlds for these characters.
Have your daughters ever seen your work?
Yes of course! My daughters get to come to the shoots!
They love meeting Ariel, Snow White and Barbie. However if you ask me do they understand the concepts behind the images, then I’ll tell you that they are not sophisticated enough yet. These images are made for adults.
What do you hope people take away from your images?
Yes I express myself through my work and yes my pictures can be controversial. Often people interpret the work differently than I intended and that’s just fine with me. If dialogue happens then I’m happy. Good art creates dialogue.
My main message is that this world is so complex and everyone has their own challenges to deal with. What might seem ‘perfect’ on the outside is most likely not
I have received so many letters over the years from people, all over the world (male and female) telling me that my work has ‘moved’ and ‘inspired’ them. To me that’s profound!
Thank you so much, Dina, for agreeing to the interview! If you happen to live in Vancouver as well, there’s an amazing event coming up on October 3, 2012 where Dina will be speaking. Leading Moms is happening during school hours at the HR MacMillan Space Centre. Dina is going to be just one of an amazing panel of presenters, including Natalie Angell-Besseling of Shanti Uganda, a past guest on the Strocel.com podcast. I will be there myself, soaking up the inspiration.