For the latest in our series on women photographers, Lady Shooters, Tara Wray interviews Vancouver-based documentary and portrait photographer Jackie Dives.
Jackie Dives is a documentary and portrait photographer living in Vancouver, B.C. She is drawn to photographing emotionally intense situations. Her work has tackled such diverse topics as abortion, menstruation, drug addiction, and polygamist cults. Working in digital and film, her current series includes a decade-long project, which aims to tell a personal story of living with depression.
Can you tell the readers of BUST who you are and what type of photography you do?
I'm a photographer based in Vancouver, BC. When people ask me what kind of photography I do, I usually tell them that I like to shoot anything that involves people. I think I fall somewhere between photojournalist and lifestyle. I do a lot of photography that involves documenting people's stories and telling the news. But I also work on a lot of creative projects, too! I'm currently working on a documentary series that aims to destigmatize sex workers, and a creative series where I take photos of people telling their abortion stories.
I really connected with your Slow Like a Bruise, Quick Like Hunger images (as well as the story behind them). Can you talk about that work? And do you find the act of making pictures offers you relief now?
The photos from my Slow Like a Bruise, Quick Like Hunger project are interesting for me to look at because even though they were taken by me, they were mostly taken when I was a child and teenager. What I love about them is that, even though it's not refined, I can see my style in them. And there are also several themes and subjects from 10-20 years ago that are still present in my work today. For instance, my brother appears in many of the rolls of film. I think documenting him was one of the things that led me towards being a photographer, and helped me develop the style I have now. I photograph him consistently, to this day, and now it has evolved into my Brother Project, where I am documenting his recovery from heroin addiction.
It's painful to see myself in the photos. Not because of the bad hair and the bad eyebrows, but because I can so vividly feel what that girl was feeling so instantly. That's really the power of photography, I think. That when you look back at the photos you took, you can really put yourself back in that place in time and very viscerally feel what was happening then. I am sad that I still experience a lot of the anxiety that was present then, in a lot of ways I am that girl still. But on the other hand, I have learned so much about my mental health, and how to deal with it. I have come very far.
In all honestly, I would say that no, the act of taking pictures does not relieve anxiety for me now. I find the process of taking photos, of being a photographer, very, very challenging. But I believe in it so much. As cheesy as it sounds, I believe that documenting history and telling stories is crucial to an honest existence.
What's your personal way of establishing trust with your subjects when you're dealing with intimate topics?
I've had to examine this question in retrospect because it's not something I'm conscious of when I go into a shoot. I think what works for me to establish trust is to show up without expectations of people, to be authentic, and to be nonjudgemental. The subject is truly the expert on themselves, so I let them lead. I'm not sure where it came from exactly, but not a lot rattles me, and I think that comes across to my subjects. They can read from me that I'm not going to be scared or shocked, and that I truly care about them and their story.
What led you to photography in the first place?
I think the simplest way to answer that is that photography was the art that moved me the most when I looked at it. I don't think there is anything more beautiful or moving than what is real.
And the more in depth answer might be this: When I was 8 years old, my little brother was born and I started taking photographs. Because of our age gap, photography was a realistic way for us to connect that didn't require us to have much in common, other than being in the same room. Now, as a portrait and documentary photographer, it's that same connection that I'm recreating each time I take someone's portrait. I want to get to know them. Taking photos of my brother starting at such an early age helped me develop my photographic approach to photography. He moved fast, and wasn't interested in what I was trying to create. I was able to quickly let go of any specific photographic intentions, and embrace the beauty of capturing the moment in its purity and realness.
Is there a subject you're afraid to tackle? Or is there something you've been wanting to shoot but haven't yet?
No, there isn't anything that I'm afraid to tackle. I like challenges and the more interesting or controversial a subject is, the more likely there is a story there that needs to be told.
I have a few projects that are currently in the development stages, most of which are more introspective than a lot of my other work. It's actually really hard for me to find the time to do work about myself, because it's not something that I've able to get funding for, or that anyone seems interested in publishing. It's also harder for me to articulate why I need to do the introspective stuff, and to fully form the concepts until they are in progress...
What would you say to a young woman out there who wants to get into photography but maybe has been fearful to start?
If a young woman asked me for advice about getting into photography as a profession I would first ask her if photography is the only thing she thinks about. Does she dream about it, does she wake up thinking about it? Is it what makes her want to get out of bed in the morning, and what she spends all day thinking about? If yes, she should pursue it, knowing that it's going to take up 110% of her life. I believe that if you want something badly enough you can figure out how to make it happen, whether it's photography, fashion design, law etc. There is no linear path to becoming a photographer and taking photos is a very small percentage of what you actually do. It is a road of constant failure and hustling, and if that doesn't scare you off, you might be the kind of person who should pursue it.
Note: If you're in Vancouver on March 30th, check out Jackie's upcoming show Slow Like a Bruise, Quick Like Hunger.
Photos courtesy Jackie Dives. Follow her on Instagram.
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Tara Wray was born in Kansas and now lives and works in Vermont. She is the director of the documentary films Manhattan, Kansas (SXSW 2006 Audience Award winner), about family relationships and mental illness, and Cartoon College, about the weird and wonderful world of indie cartoonists. In 2008 she turned her attention to still photography, self-publishing the photobooks "Each One Wonderful" and most recently “Come Again When You Can’t Stay So Long,” a follow-up to Manhattan, Kansas. She also curates an interview series on VICE called Doin' Work: Flash Interviews With Contemporary Photographers. Follow Tara on Instagram.