From the process to the final image, Delphine Diallo’s portraiture is all about connection and exchange. “Women are deep beings. I can really connect with them on an emotional level,” says the French-Senegalese photographer, who spends more time speaking with her subjects than photographing them, discussing their experiences as a woman, as well as their family, relationships, and work. “My portraiture is not just about beauty. It is about my experience with the subject,” she says. “Processing is part of the creative process.”
Diallo’s work will be exhibited in Notre Dame/Our Lady, the inaugural exhibition at the new, all-female London gallery Boogie Wall. Diallo will be exhibiting eight portraits alongside work by Swiss-Guinean photographer Namsa Leuba, and Swedish artist Alice Herbst.
Diallo’s photographic career took off in 2008 when she met Peter Beard, who, impressed by her spontaneity, invited her to collaborate for the Pirelli Calendar photo shoot in Botswana. The trip had a profound effect on Diallo; it prompted her to travel to her father’s home city in Senegal to explore his roots, and, after working as a video editor in Paris for seven years, she quit her job and relocated to New York, where she went on to shoot commercially for publications and brands including Vogue, The New York Times, and Nike.
Diallo’s interest in the female form and exploring “female energy” was prompted in part by Beard, a photographer who regarded the female form as the “ultimate truth in life”, but also by her personal experience. “When I started my journey 10 years ago, I was really angry, not only from my experience as a woman of colour, but also from just being a woman,” she reflects. “It was driven by a lot of pain, from misunderstanding life — the experience of life.”
“Female energy is about collaboration, unity, and integration,” Diallo continues, explaining how she wants to awaken the feminine spirit, which is often dormant, and at times repressed, within everyone — whether man or woman.
By engaging in intimate conversations with her subjects, Diallo wants to remove the sense of vulnerability that can often come with being photographed, particularly in the relationship between a male photographer and a female model. Working collaboratively with body painters, as well as jewelry and mask makers, Diallo proposes a new take on traditional mythology and spiritual symbols, using this to empower her subjects.
“I want to create a space for women to be stronger,” she says. “I hope that when they look at the photographs they feel stronger because they see themselves through my eyes.”