Written review by
Associate Curator, International Center of Photography
Dietrich’s portfolio is very good – not many photographs to judge from, but a great overall quality and style, and striking portraits altogether.
The strongest quality of this work is its consistency –there is no bad photograph really, all the portraits are interesting in their way. None of them absolutely jump at me either, but that’s also part of the idea – there is a linear thread to this series that makes me want to look at them as one multifaceted portrait… I love that Dietrich is experimenting: experimenting with the angle – frontal, from below, profile – with the color – and both color and black and white are very good – and with the lighting – dark background, light background, flash, natural light, shadows… I also love that Dietrich is playing with moods – at times Hitchcockian (opening and closing photographs, very strong portraits, number 1 and 8), or more romantic , like photographs 2, 5 and 7, soft light, delicate angles, and trusting relationship with the subjects: all of the portraits have the good distance, physical and emotional. One can sense that Dietrich was very clear about the intention of his session – at once to experiment while making beautiful portraits. Portraits 4 and 6 are very good; I love the mask, the idea of the protection as well as the seductive gaze, or even the warrior. I like the fact that Dietrich tried two different angles for the masked portraits, and that he sequenced them in a way that they “surround” the same subject without the mask, as if to prove a very strong point: the subject seems deeply more vulnerable without the mask, much more empowered and defiant when he wears this protection from the world, and from the photographer. It is almost as if the man in photographs 4 and 6 were a completely different man when photographed “naked”, if I may say, in image 5. That portrait 5 is incredibly melancholy compared with the rest, and it is a brilliant placement, to have placed him in the middle of the selection.
Portrait number 3 is a very special one, perhaps the most striking one of the series because it seems strangely deformed, a little eerie, because of the angle, of course, of the head and neck., and the combination between that angle and the angle of the camera. It is not a distortion per se, but there is a feeling of discomfort, of unease – a positive one, perhaps similar to what we feel watching the twins of the boy with grenade by Arbus, a feeling of this sort, very personal, and disturbing. I love that it comes after a somewhat “normal” portrait, almost nonchalant, sweet, and romantic. They seem to be looking at each other, in this sequencing, but clearly they are not, they are from different universe. The second portrait of that woman, portrait 7, may actually be my least favorite, perhaps a little bit too close, perhaps a little bit too posed, to self-aware, and perhaps also too exposed – though physically, not emotionally: there is not enough space between us and the woman, or rather, between us, the woman, and the photographer. In that respect, I think that the two color portraits are really the most striking; the sitter is fantastic, beautifully taking the role of the kitsch muse, slightly ominous in that scary movie kind of way, but really playing a role, somewhere between Tippi Hedren and Blondie. The last thing I notice, and appreciate, is the actual format of the portrait – very much like a photo IC, the face composed most of the photograph, takes up most of the frame. It could be limiting, but instead it reinforces the power of the characters, and that is because the sitters are all extremely comfortable in front of Dietrich’s camera. They can afford to take up that space, in a sense, they are occupying it. Whether it be black or white backgrounds, the fact that we can only see a face, neck and shoulders, that they are really mugshots, is a great concept, and I like that it is applied consistently.
All in all, I want to congratulate Dietrich on a very serious work. I like the idea that this home coming provoked a very analytical and precise portfolio, were identity and emotions are being questioned in an almost systematic way. Well done.