Capturing the Human Psyche
Dana Gluckstein‘s photographs are mesmerizing. She is recognized as one of the preeminent portrait photographers of her generation. Her work, remarkable in its straightforward yet deeply affecting portrayal of individuals from indigenous communities, is praised by unique human rights leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Instrumental in depicting human personas outside the spheres of urban modernity, Gluckstein’s gaze is penetrating, accepting, and powerful. Gluckstein’s images avoid the cacophony of predictable portrait photography in favor of portraits that attempt to fathom the depths of the human psyche. As a result, Dana Gluckstein is a champion of Indigenous Peoples, dedicating her lifelong work to make their images present and permanent. Through her body of work, Gluckstein unites her subjects and the viewer through the line that connects all human beings together, our inalienable sense of empathy and dignity.
“… what makes Gluckstein’s images truly affecting is “punctum,” a piercing detail enabling the viewer to have a direct relationship with its subject.” – museum director, Barbara Applegate — Newsday.
A Pivotal Moment in Haiti
Gluckstein’s photographic essays began in 1983 while on a commercial assignment in Puerto Rico. At the last minute, she decided to take a flight to Haiti, and moved by the humility and lack of pretense of the populace, was inspired to create portraits of local people. This decision would become a pivotal moment in her career. Perhaps influenced by her educational background, graduated from Stanford studying painting, photography, and psychology; after encountering a Haitian woman smoking a pipe, Gluckstein became instantly drawn to her palpable, strong character.
“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.”
The resulting stirring image began a passion for photographing the Indigenous Peoples of the world. For her project, 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 suffuses her insightful images. In this photographic venture, Dana Gluckstein is committed to embracing the presence of Indigenous People through photography worldwide. She created her book DIGNITY in honor of the passage of the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The DIGNITY: Tribes in Transition exhibition has been traveling throughout Europe and the U.S. since 2011. The exhibition has been shown at the Palais des Nations, the home of the United Nations office in Geneva, in museums in Germany, and universities such as Boston University and Brown University. Recently, the exhibition toured the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami.
“DIGNITY’s power, artistry, and impassioned call to action make it a historic book in support of Indigenous Peoples throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, who are among the world’s most impoverished and oppressed inhabitants.” – DIGNITY, Cover sleeve introduction.
“The dispassionate remove common to most modern portraits is all but absent in these images; in its stead is a passionate complicity between artist and sitter that allows each subject to be memorialized with both beauty and grace. In the end, Gluckstein’s portraits are serene theatrical performances; intelligently directed by the artist and enacted with pride by the subjects in front of the silent audience of the camera’s lens.” – Robert A. Sobieszek, Curator, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Transcending Traditional Portraiture
Ultimately, Gluckstein’s work transcends traditional portraits; they seem more like mirrors looking into the souls of their sitters. While many photographers will try to control their image-making to leave a deliberate, stylistic thumbprint, Gluckstein chooses a different, gentler path of almost invisibility. Metaphorically, it’s as if the photographer knocks on a door, and when its subject answers it, their presence and unique identity are preserved by the lens of her Hasselblad. There is a total acceptance of Gluckstein’s part and an unwavering notion that, as human beings, we are all interconnected. Therefore, the same light, if given a chance, can illuminate all of us.