Insider Series: Jackie Dives

Rachel Maddock

The remarkable thing about Jackie Dives is her ability to take any situation life throws at her and turn it into art. 

For the past five years, the Vancouver-based photographer has been following her artistic instincts, gravitating towards issues that resonate with her or she has questions about. She uses her camera like a spotlight, drawing our attention towards sensitive topics like addiction, abortion, menstruation and childbirth. She uses photography to pull back the curtain on mental health, social justice and gender roles, inviting viewers to take a longer look.

“I just think it’s important to not be afraid to talk about things. I think that if we talk about them, they can be prevented,” says Dives. 

Over cups of tea at her spacious Mount Pleasant apartment, the 35-year old artist explains her career journey to me. It took Dives several years to build up the courage to focus on photography— when she worked as a doula, she started taking birth photos, which led her back to the form she describes as her “true calling”. She says she always wanted to be a photographer, but when she turned 30, a sense of “now or never” compelled her to pursue it professionally. 

Since then, her career has taken off. Dives divides her time between her own projects and editorial photojournalism gigs, working for such big names as The Globe and Mail and The New York Times. There’s something fresh and clean about her images — they are uncluttered, guiding your eye right to the heart of their subject matter. Dives says she wants her work to be approachable and intimate — something you can curl up on the sofa and spend time with.

In the past, Dives admits she’s used her art to shake people up and make them uncomfortable. But recently, a tendency towards self-portraiture has risen to the surface. In 2017, she showed a collection of 28 previously undeveloped film rolls she took during childhood and adolescence in an exhibition called Slow Like a Bruise, Quick Like Hunger. Dives said the photos of her past, though she couldn’t remember taking most of them, resonated with her deeply and brought her back to the emotional moments when she captured each one.

“At heart, there is a part of me that is truly a documentarian,” she reflects. “I love the idea of documenting history as it happens… I’m very moved by images from the past that have documented history in an artful way.”

In Uncannyland (presented in May 2019 at the former South Main Gallery), Dives moved towards abstraction with a series depicting small assemblages that looked forwards, rather than backwards, in time to ponder aging and death. She created the works with rotting fruit and knick-knacks she picked up from the marketplace in Mexico during an artistic residency. Dives said making the images was cathartic—both a “mourning and celebration of [her] past self” as she processed passing a birthday.


In her upcoming show at Burrard Arts Foundation in April, Dives opens up an even more personal topic: the complexity of the decision women face about whether or not to have children. In her own words, the series is about “becoming not a mother, because there is no word for a person who becomes not a mother.” She says, “I do feel like I’m becoming something different because of this choice, and I want to talk about it.” 

Dives says, “this [decision] has been the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life, and no one talks about how this choice can be hard. It’s just not talked about.” Dives says she hopes that the show can unveil some of the pressure we place on women to become mothers, and begin to “change the conversation” around the topic.

The new show encapsulates many of the themes that emerge in Dives’ work—an exploration of the passage of time, mental health, and women’s societal roles. Crucially, these new works also reveal a particular form of courage: that of an artist using their practice to navigate the human condition.