Content Exchange

Photographer Dana Gluckstein was a recent Stanford University grad in her early 20s when a computer company sent her to take pictures at a factory in Puerto Rico for its annual report.

Finding herself halfway across the world with her camera in hand and a few days to spare after finishing the assignment, Gluckstein decided to travel to Haiti.

Little did she know this trip would change her life.

“I stayed for almost a week and was so deeply moved by the people that I met there and spent all of my time photographing in villages,” Gluckstein said. “I felt something extraordinary when I was with indigenous peoples and in the places of the world that felt very pure to me, very unadulterated from the larger Westernized, commercialized society.”

In the following years, Gluckstein discovered a deep inner passion and calling for photographing indigenous peoples, the fruits of which will be featured in an exhibition opening Friday at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art.

“I think that sometimes, for most artists, our deep intuition, our artist instinct, is sometimes ahead of our intellect,” Gluckstein said. “When I look back, those first early journeys were just deeply out of my passion, not really understanding intellectually what the longer lifetime journey would be about.”

The exhibition, titled “Dignity: Tribes in Transition,” includes a collection of 55 black-and-white portraits of indigenous people, spanning three decades of Gluckstein’s work. The collection corresponds with the photographer’s “Dignity” book released in 2010 and has been touring museums and galleries both nationally and internationally since 2011.

The artist estimates she has photographed between 20-25 indigenous cultures throughout the world during her career, including peoples in Kenya, Canada, Peru, Bali, Bhutan and Hawaii. Curator Kenneth Hartvigsen said he appreciates that Gluckstein’s portraits allow the subjects to symbolically “speak for themselves.”

“There is no editorializing from Dana, rather she approaches each individual with great love, respect and sensitivity, and the resulting photographs display much more than the person’s likeness,” Hartvigsen said. “It is hard to describe how beautiful these images are. And for me that beauty is more than the composition of the photograph, it is the beauty of the sitter’s soul.”

Gluckstein said she has always gravitated toward photographing in black and white because that was the style of her training at Stanford University. But beyond this, she feels black and white “transcends reality because it makes us go deeper.”

“Our mind has to use its imagination. It’s different than all of the color that we see,” Gluckstein said. “We’re bombarded by color in advertising, billboards, on TV, and now of course everybody with their telephones, iPhones, everybody taking pictures, I would say that 99 percent of what we see is color, so black and white transcends that. There’s something more ethereal about it for me as an artist.”

The photographer seeks through her work to be a voice for indigenous peoples. Gluckstein’s 2010 book was released in association with Amnesty International’s 50th global anniversary and was dedicated to the “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” which the U.S. has since adopted.

Gluckstein now hopes through the exhibition to raise awareness of another Amnesty International action alert in support of providing Native American and Alaskan women equal access to care after sexual assault.

“My feeling is that we are all born on the planet with a mission, that our purpose of being here is really a very beautiful and divine purpose of making a difference on the planet and ensuring a peaceful and healthy planet for the next generations to come, and I believe that the indigenous voice is about that,” Gluckstein said. “I want people really to see our divinity and our oneness and our interconnectedness.”

Hartvigsen said he thinks the BYU community will appreciate Gluckstein’s photographs because they proclaim “we are members of a universal human family.”

“No matter the background, country of origin, race or religion, all humans are members of one family — which sadly we sometimes forget,” Hartvigsen said.

The curator said he hopes visitors who see Gluckstein’s collection will gain more respect and understanding for indigenous peoples, as well as a greater love for all people.

“I hope they will leave this exhibition committed to doing what they can to support, uplift and serve those in need,” Hartvigsen said. “For me, this exhibition is about coming together, learning from one another and moving forward in unity.”

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