Artist of the Week

An interview with photographer Delphine Diallo about her black & white street series.

The French-Senegalese photographer Delphine Diallo launched her career five years ago in Brooklyn, on a quest to document beautiful and uncommon faces—unlike the ones she was seeing in Paris fashion magazines—with her own, unique voice. Originally gaining attention for the portrait collages she created of her family members in Senegal, Diallo is as unafraid of mixed media as she is of expressing her views on the importance of responsibility, social change and turning away from popular culture in order to be inspired. Diallo’s latest focus on black-and-white street portraits are a study in strong composition, tonal depth and often, the subject’s proud energy— an obvious reflection of the artist herself.

You originally discovered your love of photography when documenting your family in Senegal. Did you have any expectations about making it a career?

No, none at all. I was burnt out from being a graphic designer and animator, and sitting behind a computer all day, so I went traveling. [Taking pictures] was definitely something I did for my heart; I made the portraits I took of my family members into collages because I wanted them to see that I actually created something.

What was your first significant job or assignment?

It was with [artist/photographer] Peter Beard. I met Peter after he saw my collages, and we had a good rapport because I wouldn’t let him photograph me naked! A few weeks later, he asked me to come to Botswana with him and assist on the 2009 Pirelli calendar shoot. He was a great mentor.

Why did you choose New York over Paris to launch your career?

In Paris, it’s all one thing; you don’t see ethnic diversity or people who are mixed race in fashion or commercial photography. Here in Brooklyn, multi-ethnicity is valued. Also in Paris, people sit around and smoke and complain about their jobs while drinking wine, but they’re not doing anything to change it. Here in Brooklyn, people create things; that’s why I’ve stayed all these years.

What influenced or moved you, both as a photographer and during your years at Académie Charpentier School of Visual Art?

My mother was a painter, so from a very early age, she would give me a page every morning to study with a new artist on it. I was inspired by classic painters like Francisco Goya, Eugène Delacroix, Nicolas Poussin, Picasso, Ingres, Renoir and many more.

Talk about your street photography series; how did it evolve from your earlier work?

I love mythology and most my portraits are based on myths, so I’m telling a story or narrative with them, almost with a sense of cinematography. The subjects are either friends, or people I’ve met in my travels, and it’s all about the composition and connection with my subjects. Street photography is an amazing way to catch the essence of the city and reflect on our generation at the moment. It’s a sharing experience where the viewer can be touched because he or she can be involved as a witness too. It’s a magic capture of an accidental moment—you feel it and you have to catch it. It’s a healthy visual obsession and it gives me this passion to believe each instant in life can be revealed as a creative moment.

What is your WILD Wish?

I want to travel the world, to continue working and producing images. I want to use my work as a reflection on culture, to spur social change and to constantly create. But at the same time, I don’t want to take my work too seriously, because it’s only pictures, you know?

Photo © Delphine Diallo