Robert A. Sobieszek
The Late Curator, Department of Photography
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Despite their allure and sophistication, modern portraits are in general limited to those superficial aspects of the sitter that can be eloquently lighted, artfully posed and objectively rendered by the camera’s lens. Even one of the finest fashion and portrait photographers, Richard Avedoon, admitted that “the surface is all you’ve got.” At the same time, while no single photographic portrait can justly capture an inner soul or the varied nuances of anyone’s psyche, it would seem nevertheless that something quite vital is lacking in the manner in which portraits are created today.
The portraits taken by Dana Gluckstein over the course of the last decade evidence a clear attempt to reinvest portraiture with that something that was lost some time ago. And that something is nothing less than the desire, or the requirement, to express the character and moral quality of the sitter in such a way that far more than a likeness is suggested if not exactly revealed. Her subjects, whether a Haitian worker, a blind Masai elder, a Mayan woman, or an Australian aboriginal artist, are as it were, simply fellow travelers encountered along the way; yet with all the cool delineation afforded by modern photographic equipment and techniques, Gluckstein succeeds in bestowing upon her sitters a sense of stilled dignity, a humaneness entirely devoid of any temporary, fleeting, or accidental quality.
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.
Beaux Arts Director & Chief Curator
Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami
Good evening and welcome to the Lowe Art Museum.
My name is Jill Deupi and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the opening of DIGNITY: Tribes in Transition. It is equally my pleasure to be able to introduce tonight’s featured artist and speaker, Dana Gluckstein, whose beautiful work surrounds us. If you have not done so already, I strongly encourage you to take the time to engage with these works after this evening’s program. Your efforts will be richly rewarded by the images’ visual splendor, which is rivaled only by the sensitivity, the humanity, and the dignity with which Gluckstein has her sitters.
It is particularly fitting that we are gathered here tonight since this is the very week that leaders from around the globe have converged on Davos, Switzerland for the 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting; a distinguished forum which Ms. Gluckstein was invited to address in 2013. The theme of this year’s WEF meeting is Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World. The organizers note:
The global commons cannot protect or heal itself. Politically, new and divisive narratives are transforming governance. Economically, policies are being formulated to preserve the benefits of global integration while limiting shared obligations such as sustainable development, inclusive growth and managing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Socially, citizens yearn for responsive leadership; yet, a collective purpose remains elusive despite ever-expanding social networks. All the while, the social contract between states and their citizens continues to erode.
It is these fractures that Gluckstein – a self-identified “creative activist” – mines in her work. By focusing on Indigenous Peoples, she reminds us that the articulation and promotion of universal values have never been more important. Indeed, a shared commitment to peace, freedom, social progress, equal rights and human dignity, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should bind us together not tear us apart. She equally reminds us that our destinies and our fates are inextricably linked; a fact that we ignore at our peril, as well as the peril of the “ancient ones,” from whom we can learn so much if only we choose to listen and to act. As the Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, stated in 2003: “Human rights and universal values are almost synonymous--so long as we understand that rights do not exist in a vacuum. They entail a corresponding set of obligations, and obligations are only meaningful where there is the capacity to carry them out. ‘Ought implies can.’”
Kenneth Hartvigsen, PhD
Curator of American Art
Brigham Young University, Museum of Art
Tonight it is my honor to introduce our guest and speaker. Dana Gluckstein is an internationally renowned artist who has found success as an advertising photographer, and who has created marvelous portraits of such luminaries as Mohammed Ali and Nelson Mandella. But her true passion as an artist and activist is her Dignity project, for which she has travelled the globe for more than thirty years to photograph and to commune with the Indigenous Peoples of the world. In Dana’s own words, this project is not just an occupation but rather a calling to learn from Indigenous Peoples, whether they be in Peru, Bali, Hawaii, Kenya, or North America.
The intimate portraits that she produces on these journeys are much more than beautiful—although they certainly are that. You could talk about her strong sense of composition, or the stylistic consistency that she achieves across subjects and geographical locations through the use of black and white photography—and all of those points are worthy of discussion. But to end the conversation there would be to miss the point. The beauty of these photographs arises not only from Dana’s technical abilities, but from the strength of her character and her commitment to the people she photographs. The most transcendent quality of her portraits is the way they communicate the beauty of her subjects’ souls. Somehow, when you look at one of Dana’s pictures you see not only a representation of a person’s appearance, but also of their inner reality. The depth, warmth, and contrast that Dana coaxes out of her black and white medium are all visually compelling, but ultimately these qualities serve as an analog for the nuanced beauty of the individual human spirit. In sum, I believe that Dana has achieved something remarkable with this body of work, and when you experience Dignity: Tribes in Transition, I hope you pay attention not only to what you see, but also to what you feel.