The Unfamiliar Familiar: Charlie White, Dina Goldstein
Charles White, Getting Lindsay Linton (2001)
In the photos of both Charlie White and Dina Goldstein, the unfamiliar is superimposed upon the familiar. Many of these deceivingly snapshot-style pictures take place in recognizable, if not mundane settings but quickly transport the audience out of any semblance of a comfort zone. The bulk of the content appears as if it were taken from daily life – domestic settings, parties, magazine photojournalism – but it takes only a brief moment before things become very obviously awry.
Throughout Charlie White’s series Understanding Joshua, the character of Joshua recurs. The puppet-like creature appears in a variety of settings and in a number of conditions, some of which show his presence by only an arm or an otherwise indecipherable, disembodied appendage. In an interview with NPR, the artist described Joshua as “complete frailty manifest in a body”; a representation of the vulnerability inherent in human beings.
Whether attending a cocktail party or engaged in a number of pseudo-sexual situations, the themes of male weakness and frivolity claw their way to the surface. Bold and awkward these characteristics refuse to be ignored. Joshua, who is naked in every scene, appears nearly human while exuding a primal otherness.
The creature’s slouching posture and narrowly expressive features–ranging from uneasy to frightened and always melancholy–drip with low self-image and social anxiety. None of the other brightly clad figures in these scenes seem to connect much, if at all, to Joshua’s apparent alienation. It can be argued that Joshua is an externalization of low self-worth as a result of a masculine social orthodoxy. On the surface, everyone is smiling and laughing gaily; beneath lurks a pathos of vulnerability represented by Joshua.
Dina Goldstein, Snowy
Goldstein’s Fallen Princesses shares a great deal of style and content with Understanding Joshua. These oversaturated images take place in homes, deserts and hospitals and seem like they are straight out of a Newsweek column. Goldstein places the instantly recognizable princesses of Disney fame into situations which challenge not only their beloved backstories and pop-cultural adoration but also gender roles and identity, much like Charlie White.
While White hints at a world of male inferiority that is hidden, or at least overlooked by society, Goldstein presents clear physical challenges for the modern princess.
Rapunzel sits in a hospital room, cancer-stricken, as she holds a wig of long golden braids. Jasmine stalks a Middle Eastern war zone, assault rifle at her side. Little Red Riding Hood’s obsession with fast food is evidenced by her hood size. Goldstein starts with the foundation that no female is a fairy tale, and lets the viewer build from there.
These two bodies of work are portraitures not of the studio-lighting and Photoshop variety, but evoke rather the Dutch Renaissance still life or Vanitas – full of symbolism, demonstration and questions about human nature. Where exactly do individual circumstances fit into the equation? How much does social consciousness weigh in against the internal self?
Whether the visceral images in White’s Understanding Joshua or the tradition-toppling Fallen Princesses of Goldstein, these artists capture a moment with stunning aptitude. Each frame represents both a strong narrative and a biting critique; guaranteed fodder for writers and amateur sociologists alike.
Chip (Charles, Σhip, (hip, et al.) is a multimedia artist, essayist, poet, and thinker. His work is often eclectic due to his emphasis on process and intention over medium. Paradox, absurdity and linguistics are common in his work. He is currently seeking a drastic life change including – but not limited to – a new place of residence. He believes that in the land of the blind, the man with the hippest music collection is king.