Picture This :: The Male Portraiture of Dave Dietz
Portrait of a photographer: Boston-based shutterbug David Dietz had a steady job at a private school when fate intervened in late 2011. "I was working at Walnut Hill School for the Arts," Dietz recollected. "It’s a performing and visual arts high school in Natick. I’d been there since we’d moved to Boston, and basically what happened is that my job got eliminated.
"I had a pretty unique job being an in-house graphic designer," Dietz added. "They decided to re-structure and made a new position that was more a classic PR kind of position." Dietz could have wrung his hands, hung his head, and bemoaned his fate, finding himself jobless along with eight million other Americans in the wake of the Great Recession. But he had a different idea: To answer an artistic calling.
"The time was right," Dietz told EDGE, adding that his former occupation "was a job where, at the beginning, it was a challenge--and by the end there was no longer any challenge there.
"I had wanted to do photography for some time," Dietz continued. "I had some photography to do in that job, and I had done it back in college; I was a film and photography major before I switched to fine arts. I hadn’t done photography in a while, but two and a half years ago, on Christmas Eve, my husband Karl gave me a digital camera. We went to Easton Mountain for New Year’s and I started taking pictures. I decided I wanted to take a good picture of every guy that was in attendance there, there were about 60 guys or so. I found I was making a really good connection to the guys; people liked my photos a lot; some people were kind of amazed that I had the camera for three days. We ended up doing a slide presentation for the talent show. Since then, I’ve been hooked by doing photography again."
Getting to the point where he was willing to make a go at professional photography may not have taken much time, but the decision did take some thought.
"When I was laid off, I took some time to figure out what I wanted to do next," Dietz recounted. "I went to Easton Mountain for the whole month of October to do some volunteer work and just think--just see what would come to me. Really, nothing else did, except for photography It was the only thing I felt I was passionate about. By the end of the month it seemed so obvious a choice. Since then I’ve been pursuing it."
A Home for Art
Easton Mountain, one of Dietz’s first artistic homes, is also a place many men regard as a spiritual home. Easton Mountain is a gay men’s retreat in upstate New York, established 11 years ago by John Stasio and run by a small key staff and a cadre of volunteers. The retreat center hosts dozens of programs, workshops, and events throughout the year, from its extremely popular annual New Year’s celebration to supportive, healing programs like Queer Spirit Camp and Living Full Out.
"I started dong a lot of events there and putting them on Facebook," Dietz recounted. "I was told that my pictures get the most hits on their Facebook page, and then they asked to use some of my photos for a catalogue. I also did their Holiday card this last year, which was great. I was there when we had one of last winter’s few snowstorms, at the end of October, so it was a beautiful snow-covered scene. The timing was perfect."
The retreat center’s website includes a number of Dietz’s photos. It’s a good match, given that Dietz prefers his settings (and his models) to be natural. "I prefer to shoot outdoors whenever possible especially in nature," the photographer noted. "Men in nature is my favorite thing to shoot."
But Dietz’s work isn’t only online; it’s also on walls. Dietz is a member of Fort Point Arts Community (FPAC). A number of his photos are on display at the group’s gallery, Made in Fort Point, which is located at 12 Farnsworth Street in Boston. Moreover, Dietz’s work is on display at the Blue Glass Café in the John Hancock building, located at 300 Clarendon street, through July 16.
And, of course, his photos grace the halls of Easton Mountain. "This last New Year’s, exactly two years after I got the camera, I had my first show there," Dietz said. "That was fun, because a lot of the pictures I’d taken Easton, but there were also pictures from all around London and Paris. It was nice; it really went over. I sold about ten photos. Some of the guys that were there were in some of the photos, and I’m hopefully going to do it again this New Year’s."
His work at Easton Mountain opened some doors, leading to Dietz’s work being featured in two gay publications.
"’Boston Spirit’ ran a story about Easton Mountain a couple of months ago, and they used some of my photos for that, and also interviewed me for that, as well," Dietz said.
"Another publication that ran some of my work is a PDF magazine out of the UK called All Bear, and they did a feature on Kendall Kelly, who is a Bear celebrity; he’s a singer and performer.
"I was at Easton Mountain for the first Bear Weekend back in February, and he mentioned the he needed pictures for a magazine he was going to be in, and Dennis [Petragnani, Easton’s General Manager] suggested I take the pictures," Dietz explained. "So we did them there at Easton, and he was going to be in the next issue of All Bear, but I guess they liked the pictures so much they made a special edition out of it, mostly of him."
While it’s nice to attract attention on the strength of one’s work and talent alone, any business also involves at least a modicum of marketing. So far, Dietz suggested, his marketing efforts haven’t had to eat up a lot of his time and energy.
"It’s a mix; one thing leads to another," the photographer reflected. "For instance, I’ve done my church’s gala, the Arlington Street Church, shot their gala for the last three years. Recently, our intern minister hired me to shoot her ordination, I think that’s a direct result of my volunteer work. Right now, it’s more word of mouth, or people see my photos and [contact me for some work]."
That includes portrait work, headshots, and other commercial work, in addition to Dietz’s artistic photography. Dietz summarized his business model, saying, "I do personal photo shoots for guys tailored to their intentions."
"It took me a while. I developed my web site, so I have that going now, but I really think it’s more word of mouth."
Not that using today’s leading edge marketing platforms hasn’t played a role, though. Dietz explained how a series of photographic studies called "31 Portraits in 31 Days," which he disseminated on Facebook, came about.
"What happened was, at the end of April I got invited to join this group. A friend of a friend had decided to start a group where the participants would create a portrait and post it every single day for the month of May. Other than that, there were no rules; it was any kind of media, open to anyone who wanted to join, a just-for-fun kind of thing. I said, ’Sure, why not?’
"What I decided to do was try to get a variety of people," Dietz continued. "My photos were 8 x 10, black and white, kind of classic head shot portraits, and I wanted to get a variety of people. Mostly, I went on the street and asked people I thought were interesting if I could take their photo--basically, handed them their card and told them about the project. People looked at me like I was crazy, but a surprising number said yes. It was a really good project; it was a lot of work, actually.
"I did try to stick to the one every day rule, but sometimes I would take two photos in one day but then I would process one the next day," Dietz added. "A lot of the work actually happened later on, while processing the images with Photoshop. I shot most of the subjects in five minutes, because they were strangers on the street and I couldn’t really ask them to stay longer. But I also found that usually I would either get the picture right away, or not. Almost all of them... one person, I didn’t use, but other than that, everyone I asked, I used their picture.
"It was fun; you got to meet new people," Dietz went on to say. "It was a little awkward, going up to people; I tend to be a shy person in general, so it put me out of my comfort zone. What made it worse was, the more interesting the people were, the less I wanted to approach them. And there were a few people I let go; there were times when I said to myself, ’I should approach them,’ but then they’d walk down the street and it was too late--I didn’t make a quick decision."
The "31 Portraits in 31 Days" series is also slated to make the transition from the online world to a physical space, with a showing scheduled to appear this summer at Flour Bakery, located at 12 Farnsworth Street next to Made in Fort Point, through the month of August.
Dietz looks for something special, and intangible, about the people he photographs. His goal is to bring a person’s qualities to the surface and communicate them with texture, composition, and light.
"The people I find most attractive to photograph have a spirit about them--an aliveness that usually shows in their eyes," the photographer told EDGE, "and I try to bring that out even more in the course of shooting the photos. It’s what I look for when I review the images afterwards and choose which photos to use.
"I would definitely say I am attracted to people who are more interesting and soulful,’ Dietz added. "I tend to photograph men in general; actually, one of the things I liked about the ’31 Portraits’ project is that I got to shoot women, so I did as many women as I did men, but my favorite is to shoot male nudes. I look for interesting and attractive people, and for me there’s no real category for ’attractive.’ I tend to go with older guys because they have more soul, more character, I guess that’s good word. I like that a little more; so, generally guys over 40."
Dietz’s current project is tentatively titled "On/Off," and follows a concept of photographing a subject in his clothes before then moving on to photograph him, in the exact same pose, undressed.
"The idea came from when I had done a nude photo of a friend of mine, and I had it framed for him. He was joking about where he was going to put it up in his house--something about having to be able to move the picture when his mother comes to visit. I was joking, and said, ’How about I shoot the same picture of you with your clothes on, and put it on the back? That way when she comes to visit, you can just flip it over!’ But when I thought about it some more the next day, I thought, ’You know, that’s actually not such a bad idea.’
"So that’s what I am doing now: Two pictures, the exact same pose and setting, with the first one fully clothed and the second one nude. I’d present them side by side, actually, not a double-sided print you would have to flip. The thing is, it would make for a good book, with the same photo seen side by side--it’s clothes-on and clothes-off versions right together.
"The other thing is, I think about guys and wonder what they might look like with their clothes off. I’m sure I’m not the only guy who’s had that thought! So it’s a little bit about contrasts, a little bit abut voyeurism; it’s meant to be playful, but not overly erotic."
Dietz also added a plug for participants for his current project.
"For my On/Off series I would like to include some guys with uniforms," the photographer said. "I’m also seeking guys interested in possibly modeling for it."