Monday, June 29, 2009

Fallen Princesses Project by Dina Goldstein

JPG Magazine has published online the images for Dina Goldstein's Fallen Princesses project. The images are provocative, especially since Goldstein mostly uses Disney's versions of fairy tale princesses which are arguably the most glossy and pervasive versions of fairy tale characters in modern times. This photo essay enters into the common debate over the suitability of fairy tales for children, as well as women's issues and fairy tales, two of the top five most popular topics on SurLaLune's Discussion Boards. They are so popular that I've devoted pages to them with books and links for reference: Children and Fairy Tales and Women and Fairy Tales.

Goldstein explains in her introduction that "these works place Fairy Tale characters in modern day scenarios. In all of the images the Princess is placed in an environment that articulates her conflict. The '...happily ever after' is replaced with a realistic outcome and addresses current issues."

I squirm over the choice of "realistic outcome." So many detractors of fairy tales tend to argue along the lines that life is never happy, always miserable, especially if one chooses to marry or seek out long term relationships. Yes, I'm writing in broad generalities and I firmly believe that life is hard and painful, but I also think that the pain is tempered with joy and happiness that is only made greater thanks to the contrast of opposite experiences. Traditional fairy tales tend to promote just that message, not perfectly, but in a much more realistic way, encouraging endurance and perseverance. Here's a summation of one of my basic philosophies: Happily ever after does not mean "without ever a conflict or hardship" but is an optimistic view of overcoming those hardships when they arise in the future, often with the companionship needed to make it easier.

I'm not criticizing Goldstein's work, mind you. I enjoyed it and want to share it, thus this post.

Back to the project. Some images are more poignant or hard hitting for me than others, but I've decided to let them speak for themselves instead of commenting on them individually.


  1. I have to say that the Rapunzel one was the only image that spoke to me. Her lack of familiarity with the genre shows; I've seen comics in the paper that make the same points with the same princesses (especially Snow White). But the Rapunzel image is just perfect, and perfectly heartbreaking.

  2. I don't know...after looking at these several times and thinking about them overnight, I have to say I just think she's missing the mark here. Which is too bad--I *want* to like this series, I really do, but think the photographer just doesn't quite see how a fairy tale is really an outer reflection of an inner narrative (or at least that's what I've always taken away from them). Most of these images seem like non sequiturs to me--especially the Red Riding Hood--but even Rapunzel (as heartbreaking as it is to me, whose husband died of cancer)seems oddly removed from her own story here.

  3. Certainly thought provoking - thanks for sharing! I think I'm with you and the other comments, however. Fairy tales are much more than 'happily ever after' (I like your analysis of that by the way). Fairy tales allow us to explore universal fears and desires. It's one of the reasons why Hansel and Gretel resonates so deeply with most children.

  4. I enjoyed the Golstein images myself, but also had the same reaction that you (Heidi) had, as well as the commenters'. The issue I have is with the idea that you expressed, Heidi, that what is supposed to be a realistic outcome, seems for so many people who claim to understand fairy tales, to mean misery. Heck, I know a lot of people with decent, contented lives. I think that's what "happily ever after" really means.