VICE's #BlackLove series celebrates the bonds between Black people through intimate, powerful, and uplifting narratives of love in all its forms. Through these stories, we honor the art, activism, and beauty that grows from Black love.
Delphine Diallo wants to change how women of color are seen worldwide. The driving goal may sound gargantuan—akin to, say, ending world hunger—but Diallo does not operate in small-scale thinking. The French and Senegalese artist speaks in a grand, poetic style about the possibilities of portraiture and connecting with her subjects on an ephemeral and spiritual level. Her melodious accent adds an eloquent air to her aphorisms and, before you know it, you’ve been pulled into Diallo’s mission, fully believing in her power to achieve it.
The experimental photographer has made powerful strides towards her goal. Her mixed-media collages masterfully depict her WOC subjects as being simultaneously strong, vulnerable, and beautiful. Their dark-tones glitter and sparkle under Diallo’s eye.
Diallo employs an inclusive approach to her portraits. Her camera is not solely focused on models and entertainment figures (although she does shoot them too; Chris Rock and Chloe and Halle are past clients). She staged an ambitious project in New York last year, Women of NewYork, where she invited any and every woman to come and get photographed by her. The result was a powerful, realistic, and myriad view of women who make up the city; an illustration of what “city girl” TV shows like Girls and Sex and the City should actually look like.
Here, Diallo spoke to VICE about the hidden complexities of portraiture and how she hopes to gain self-love through teaching other women how to love themselves.
VICE: Tell me about yourself and your work.
Delphine Diallo: I am French and Senegalese and have been a visual artist and photographer for the last eight years. All of my work is about women, especially women of color. The true purpose of my study and my work is trying to find a new approach and understanding of female energy worldwide.
What attracts you to portraiture?
I’ve always enjoyed it, since I was a kid. There’s a lot of aspects to portraitures. It seems very easy, but it’s actually very complex. Growing up, my mom taught me about paintings—portraiture and composition. So I was always attracted to faces. When I started photography, I was easily able to switch my passion for faces to the form. I feel very connected to the women in my portraits; they are my friends, my peers. We connect, we talk about change, we evolve together.
Can you tell me more about choosing your subjects?
Seventy-five percent of my work is photographing friends. So the subjects in my photos are people that I really love. I have a definition of them already related to personal experience, and I can’t hide that understanding of them in the photography. Today, I try to connect my work to women worldwide. I did this project called Women of New York, where I photographed women I didn’t know and they came to me for photographs. I had to create a space where they could feel comfortable and confident. My goal for every woman I photograph is to bring confidence to them.
What is like being able to tap into the vulnerability of your subjects?
It’s very intense. I can usually relate to their vulnerability. It’s the same vulnerabilities of our mothers. The vulnerability of not needing a man, the vulnerability of not needing approval... To me, it all of those worries need to go away. It’s a fight.
Portraiture feels like an act of care within itself. You’re trying to make your subject comfortable, confident, and also show an honest view of them. Do you agree with that?
It’s double-sided. Because I am also taking care of myself. I have to respect the women I shoot, acknowledge their presence, acknowledge their identity and compassion and fear. All these emotions. And if I can recognize them in my work, maybe I can also recognize them within myself and change.
So you’re also getting something from all this.
Yes! It’s a gift.
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