The decades-long career trajectory of Vancouver-based photographer Dina Goldstein began in photojournalism. Since then, she has focussed on documentary and portraiture and, most famously, ventured into the realm of the conceptual via her elaborate, oft surreal tableaux commentaries on various social constructs and issues.
The subjects of her most recent photography series, OG Punk (currently on display at The Polygon Gallery through January 2nd, 2022), need not be staged. The local (Vancouver and Victoria) punk and hardcore scene vets that she has captured are all performers by nature.
We recently had the opportunity to interview Goldstein, shortly after the opening of her exciting new exhibition…
What music (punk/hardcore or otherwise) are you listening to these days to get inspired in or out of your studio?
I played a lot of David Bowie while shooting these portraits. Everyone loves Bowie! I’ve been learning a lot about local punk music and getting acquainted with DOA and the social messaging within the lyrics.
OG Punk marks a milestone for you because it’s your first exhibit in a major local art institution. Why has this taken so long to happen, and why is it (finally) happening now?
Yes, I have been traveling the world with my art for the past 15 years. I have shown in many museums and art/photography festivals. Locally I have been exhibiting quite regularly at my studio, local galleries and at festivals like Capture. It’s taken a long time to find the right series to show at an art institution locally. In this case the circumstances lined up; the topic is local and relevant, this is a very nostalgic time for our city.
I was happily surprised when Helga Pakasaar invited me to exhibit at the Polygon. However I had to move quickly in order to include some of the participants, and to produce the exhibition. This project was not planned in advance like most of my other series. During Covid I compiled my XXX Archive and book. I was mostly isolated for a year-and-a-half at the studio, and had not picked up the camera in a while. I first met Mad Dog at the park by my studio. He introduced me to Rob Punk, Myles Petersen and wendythirteen. By this time everyone was vaccinated and I was considering studio portraits of these Old Punks. My processes had to change in order to accommodate some of the participants who are ailing. I shot the series with one assistant without makeup, hair or costume. I asked them to come as they are and to bring their leather jacket, a tribute and symbol of their past and commitment to the culture. I’m glad to show this first part of the series but the work is ongoing. I am actively looking for more participants and will continue shooting into 2022.
You’ve gained global notoriety and exhibited widely elsewhere in the world, but still remain Vancouver-based and seem to always have one eye trained on the locals and communities…What is compelling you to maintain Vancouver as a home base and subject?
I stayed in Vancouver while most of my artist friends ended up in Los Angeles.
Vancouver is still a small town in many ways, but remains a perfect home to raise my family and make art. I am surrounded by talented creatives in my neighbourhood of East Vancouver. I open up my studio for large gatherings and intimate get-togethers with other artists. I can reach out for advice from more senior artists (which I do once in a while). In regards to production, Vancouver offers a lot. There is so much creative talent, mostly geared towards the film industry. I compete with huge budgets but most times get people onboard because they want to do something different, and I can offer them that. I bring on junior creatives, like special effects makeup artists, and I give them an opportunity to lead in a senior position. Most time my intuition is right about certain individuals…but there have been times when I have been wrong. Giving people a shot is worth it. I have also been taking pictures in Vancouver for over 30 years. It’s a place of immense beauty with a harsh underbelly like the DTES. I am enamoured and inspired by this paradox.
“The topics I take on are not simple, but will always stay relevant and relatable because I address the challenges of being human. I am mostly interested in humanity’s common imagination and inherent belief systems.”
You’ve often been referred as “provocative”, but what is provoking you lately?
I don’t intentionally try to provoke; in fact, good satire should engage rational discourse and debate. There will always be those that will be offended, or that will misinterpret the art.
What’s provoking me lately? Covidiots. During Covid I have been photographing Anti Mask Anti Vaxxer Rallies taking place in Vancouver. These people meet in front of hospitals to antagonize health care workers. They spread misinformation to each other. They use WWII Holocaust symbolism to equate their loss of personal liberties and freedoms. I am there photographing them with my mask on so they know my gaze is opposing.
Relevancy and longevity: what do they mean to you, personally?
As an artist you always want to make work that matters, or that will matter in the future. The topics I take on are not simple, but will always stay relevant and relatable because I address the challenges of being human. I am mostly interested in humanity’s common imagination and inherent belief systems.
Longevity is also important as you must find a way to make it through the good and rough times (which are many of both). Also you must evolve as a person and as an artist. I feel that motherhood further helped me find my voice as an artist. Balancing family life with an art practice has been challenging, messy and satisfying.
Do you think that you have created a signature for yourself? What makes a Dina Goldstein photograph or series recognizable?
It would be a huge accomplishment to be instantly recognizable. In my case I tackle many issues, and in different ways, but there is a consistency that can be attributed to my photography, this is most evident within the tableaux series. It may be harder to detect my signature within my portrait series, but again to those that follow my work, it could be more obvious. There is definitely a connective string within my subjects. They are lost in thought, or worry or disquietude, something that I keep on coming back to.