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  • by Judy Cole


Dina Goldstein

With more than 20 years of photography experience, Vancouver based photographer Dina Goldstein devotes herself to creating meaningful images with a distinctive, individual, and artistic point of view.

From her twenties to her early thirties, Goldstein photographed non-stop in differing capacities. She travelled to war-torn areas. She worked as a staff photographer on a Vancouver weekly newspaper and began concentrating on editorial portraiture. She shot images for many Canadian, American, and European newspapers and magazines. She photographed commercial projects with advertising agencies in Vancouver and collaborated with art directors internationally.

Storytelling has always been central to Goldstein’s work. As a documentary photographer, Goldstein created and shared a variety of stories such as Palestinians in Gaza, gamblers at the racetrack in Vancouver, East Indian blueberry farmers in British Columbia, show dogs, bodybuilders at state championships, and teenagers dirty dancing at a bar mitzvah.

Influenced by the 1998 exhibit Pop Surrealism at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, Goldstein expanded her visual language to include narratives, symbolism, dark humour, and subversive messaging. With this new vocabulary, her work deepened. She analyzed the human condition and interpreted new and cliched notions of beauty, gender, sex, and religion through the lens of pop culture, which concerns itself with the ordinary and superficial, and surrealism, which mines dreams and the unconscious.

Goldstein’s success in the commercial realm afforded her the time to experiment with her own ideas. With the birth of her first child at 35, Goldstein began to explore subjects and concepts that were more personal to her. The shift from commercial to fine art photography came about in 2007. Goldstein’s daughter, three years old at the time, had discovered Disney princesses at the same time that Goldstein’s mother was dealing with breast cancer. Influenced by these two events, she began to compose the concepts for a project called Fallen Princesses: failed dreams, obesity, addiction, cancer, the extinction of indigenous cultures, pollution, war, and the fallacy of chasing eternal youth. Each image was created with particular attention to makeup, costume, and location. The project took two years to complete, culminating in her first solo exhibition in 2009.

Her second project was more ambitious and was shot on a constructed set. In the Dollhouse is a 10-piece, sequential narrative that takes place in a life-sized dollhouse. A video that documents the making of the project accompanies the images. In The Dollhouse, Goldstein tackles one of the most powerful symbols of Western culture: Barbie, the idealized woman. According to Goldstein, more than any other object, Barbie represents the concept that beauty is power and necessary to attain happiness.

In Goldstein’s images, Ken, Barbie’s handsome but emasculated partner, expresses his individuality and the photographer shows that beauty can be as cheap and plastic as the dolls themselves. Both projects, Fallen Princesses and In the Dollhouse found an international audience, inspiring debate concerning standards of beauty, the complexity of marriage and the importance of authenticity.

Goldstein began to receive awards, including a residency in India. In 2013, the year she celebrated 20 years as a photographer, Goldstein opened her studio XX in Vancouver. She decided to focus completely on producing her independent large-scale projects and specifically her next series, Gods of Suburbia. She received her first Canada Council grant to help support this massive initiative. This series, more complex and contemplative than her previous work, is a critical exploration of established and fringe religions. “Gods of Suburbia offers an iconoclastic interpretation of how ancient belief systems fit with technology, science, and secularism, the three main pillars of modernity,” says Goldstein.

Because her process is multi-faceted and represents a deeply personal and professional commitment, Goldstein takes steps to ensure that her ideas, initially instinctual and inspired from a subconscious place, can be developed into a narrative that relays as much information as a book or movie. She shares her ideas with her husband, a filmmaker, or a trusted friend, and receives constructive criticism with openness. She does extensive research. Then she develops rough concepts for each piece and the overall framework of the project. Since she usually

works with a small budget, she does a lot of street casting or works with local actors and performers. Sometimes she loosely draws out her concepts with a storyboard artist, as she did for In the Dollhouse.

She assembles her team: makeup and hair artists, costumers, and prop builders. Many of the costumes and props are fabricated by local craftspeople. She methodically scouts locations, and has studio interns to handle the red tape that usually ensues. She works with photography and art students, as well as volunteers from all walks of life.

To prepare for the shoots, she focuses on details such as the furniture and knick-knacks that play an important role in the telling of the story. Prior to the shoot, Goldstein meets with the actors to discuss characters and to give them some clear direction. She usually shoots two images over a weekend. She reviews the shoot and the image files and makes decisions for later adjustments. She may have to re-shoot or add an element that will help to shape and complete the final image. She has a dynamic and talented team that, despite her limited budgets and huge ambitions, enables her to fulfill her goals.

To be successful, Goldstein advises others to learn to work with limited resources, to have a clear vision of what they want, to educate themselves about their subjects, and to make sure that everything is in place before embarking on a project.

Pleased with the recognition that she receives, Goldstein comments, “I attempt to bring attention and to inspire insight to the human condition. I am thrilled that my visual storytelling has been recognized for its ‘metaphorical and ironical messages’ and in turn has sparked much conversation and written commentary from academics, editors, and bloggers around the world. The work welcomes interpretation and discussion.” Goldstein creates images that challenge people to look closely and consider what they know, to question and perhaps reconsider what seems familiar in many aspects of their culture and daily lives.

To see more work by Dina Goldstein, check out her website that includes behind the scenes video & more projects:

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