Friday, June 27, 2008

A Conversation with Dina Kantor

Heli & Andre © Dina Kantor

Dina Kantor was first introduced to us via Joerg Colberg's Conscientious blog. Joerg highlighted Dina's recent project "Finnish & Jewish" - which explores & documents a very small community in Scandinavia.

Avi & Keren © Dina Kantor

Dina kindly agreed to answer a few questions (see below) and to share her artist statement, in which she explained her project and her connection to the community that she has been photographing. Dina sees an intrinsic ability in the photographic medium to record details which is underlined by her stylistic choice of clear lines and her use of a sober palette. Dina has an interest in exploring the role of photography in the construction of identity & community building. An important issue that she collaboratively explores with her subjects in "Finnish & Jewish": Dina through the act of picture taking - thus becoming an active participant in the process of identity construction -- and her subjects by sitting for the project.

NP: Tell us a little about yourself.

DK: I grew up in Minneapolis, MN, and am now based in Brooklyn. I studied Journalism at Studio Arts at the U of MN. After college, I lived in London for a while before moving to New York. When I got here in worked in advertising for a few years. The only thing that really kept me sane at the time was photography, so I decided to go to graduate school. I received an MFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in 2007.

My photographs have been featured in various publications, including Photo District News. I was named to Heeb Magazine's Heeb 100 list in 2007 and have received grants from both the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the Finlandia Foundation National. My photographs have been exhibited nationwide.

NP: How did you discover photography and what inspires you?

DK: The first time I took a photography class was in the 4th grade.
Unfortunately, I was trying to use old cameras that belonged to my grandfather, and none of them really worked. I didn't really get back into photography until I was in college.

I'm always inspired when I meet new people. I love seeing the way people dress, how they choose to present themselves, and what sort of things they choose to surround themselves with. It's no surprise, I guess, because my father was a sociologist. He used to drive me and my siblings through Uptown in Mpls in the 80s and we'd go "people watching." It's still one of my favorite pastimes.

NP: How did this project (Finnish & Jewish) come about?

DK: My mother was born in Finland and emigrated to America as a child in 1947.
Almost thirty years later, when she married my father, she converted to Judaism. I began photographing in Finland as a way to explore my own heritage, but as the project continues, it has come to embody a larger exploration.

Finland has a population of 5.3 million people, with only an estimated 1,500 Jews (and just two synagogues). I am interested in how such a small community maintains its cultural identity.

With these pictures, I am investigating the ways in which photography contributes to the construction of identity and community. Today’s society is increasingly complex and multi-cultural. As our heritages blend, our identities are no longer definable by a generic social stereotype of community, but by our unique experiences and backgrounds. Photography has an intrinsic ability to record details. I am employing it to record cultural signifiers and traditions as they blend, as well as to depict physical characteristics of a hybridized community.

NP: Do you think people were open to being photographed for this project because they want to preserve and project/share their identity & heritage?

DK:I'm sure each of my subjects had slightly different reasons for wanting to be photographed. But I'm guessing that the opportunity to help preserve their community's identity played into it for some of them.

I also think that, in a religious community, there are no real physical boundaries or exact definitions of who belongs or why. I chose to photograph anyone living in Finland who self-identified as being Jewish, not only the official members. Somehow the photograph helps establish these boundaries, both for the community itself and for the viewers. I think choosing to participate in my project may, in some way, have confirmed their sense of belonging to this specific community, whether that was conscious or not.

NP: Thank you so much! We are looking forward to seeing more of your work.

Take a look at more of Dina's photography via her website:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great post-- thanks for making me aware of this artist!