A Preeminent Portrait Photographer
Dana Gluckstein is recognized as one of the preeminent portrait photographers of her generation. Her vision is most vividly revealed in her images of indigenous peoples. Not content with merely revealing a physical likeness, her work expresses the character and moral quality of the sitter while also imparting upon her subjects a sense of their dignity. Her work beautifully exemplifies a humaneness lacking any temporary or accidental quality.
From Puerto Rico to Haiti
Gluckstein’s photographic essays began in 1983 when she was on a commercial assignment in Puerto Rico. At the last minute, she decided to take a flight to Haiti to create portraits of local people which became a pivotal moment in her career. When she came upon a Haitian woman smoking a pipe, Gluckstein was instantly drawn to her. As she says,
“It was very late, almost nighttime, hardly any light, and my intellect was chattering away saying, you’re never going to get it, it’s not going to be sharp. But something in me was so moved by her presence that I did it.”
Woman with Pipe, Haiti
The resulting stirring image began a passion of photographing the indigenous peoples who comprise six percent of the world’s population. Gluckstein has been photographing with a 1981 Hasselblad camera for over thirty years because of its weighty design and high-resolution square negative which lends itself to capturing the natural light that suffuse her insightful images. She comments:
“The ability to capture time standing still, to witness the eternity that resides in a moment, is what I strive to achieve in a portrait session and the resulting images. Paradoxically, in that present moment caught on film, past and future moments merge. The act of creating an image becomes a ritual, a holy act that also allows the viewer to transcend time. Over the decades, I have photographed indigenous peoples fighting for their lands, their traditions, their languages, and their very lives.”
Getting Below the Surface
During our interview with Gluckstein we discussed that observers of her photography say that she captures her subjects’ souls in your portraits, and that she gets below the surface that many other portrait photographers cannot break. We asked her how much of this phenomenon is due to her vision and how much is due to her unique body of subjects? In other words, does she think she could also get as deep with any subject of portraiture? She responded:
“I think it is due to my vision because my advertising work captured the same thing. One of my favorite art directors from Chiat Day Advertising looked at my image, Haitian Woman with Pipe, and told me that that was the mood he wanted for the advertising campaign – the same sense of dignity.”
The Power of Art to Open Hearts and Create an Impact
After the 1983 trip to Haiti, Gluckstein attended a conference of global and spiritual leaders that was eye opening for her. It strengthened her belief in the fundamental concept of unity while also further affirming the power of art to open hearts and create an impact. While Gluckstein’s work is not overtly political, she has used her project to draw attention to the plight of indigenous peoples.
In 2010, she published 90 photographs in the book DIGNITY: In Honor of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which coincided with Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary. It also included the text of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as an appeal for the United States to adopt it, which it did. Her portraits are held in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and in the last couple years she has had traveling exhibitions to the United Nations in Geneva, Brown University, and Boston University. Today, Gluckstein continues to journey across the globe using the power of images to shape consciousness.