Work

Delphine Diallo Uses Photography to Change the Narrative Around Black Women

The photographer is known for her empowering, celebratory work.

“Each time I wake up in the morning, today cannot look like yesterday,” Delphine Diallo tells me. “That is my first mission.”

On this early afternoon in her home and studio, Delphine is deep in the trenches of many assignments and commissions. There is the collage she’s working on for an article about plastic surgery in New York magazine. There is preparation for a commercial shoot. And there are final edits of her second book—a coffee table collection of her art. “I just realized this is my limit,” Delphine admits. “As much as I think I want to do everything in my life, and I’m very happy to be able to do it all, now I understand why I have to sometimes stay centered and ask for more time.”

Navigating so much creative work without day-to-day structure may seem daunting, but Delphine wouldn’t want it any other way. Born in Paris and previously based in Saint-Louis, Senegal, she now calls Brooklyn home. Here in the heart of the global art community, Delphine keeps her days open to keep the creativity flowing. Today Delphine woke up early in her home of 11 years and went to the rooftop to watch the pink sunrise and meditate for an hour. Later she went to the grocery store and cooked breakfast at around 10am. Then the work began.

Ensconced in her living room, Delphine’s live/work space allows for creative work to begin at a moment’s notice. The wide, open space features high ceilings and room for guests to stop by. Women, some of them musicians and other artists, often come and go at Delphine’s, gathering and sharing stories. A small platform in her living room sometimes serves as a meditation space, and the shelves are lined with books on physics, spirituality, and other deep topics.

Delphine keeps her tools—like her camera—visible to remember what she has. “This is kind of my messy garden,” she says. “I think as much as we want to be neat, somehow, the mind of an artist needs the mess to do things.” Also in her living room is her first picture ever: “Stay Strong.” “This is the picture that told me that I should do photography,” Delphine says.

delphine-diallo-sixtysix-magazine-Ying&Yang-01

Delphine’s “Yin / Yang” series (2019) aimed to change the narrative around photography of Black women. Photo by Delphine Diallo

It’s a far cry from the photography she’s best known for, which draws inspiration from the frequency, energy, and women of New York. But Delphine’s work often serves as a healing space for her subjects. And “Stay Strong” serves that same purpose for her. She took the photo in 2003 while waiting in a village in Senegal to meet her family.

While staying in a “very poor neighborhood” with a friend, Delphine often visited with local kids every morning. After a few days she began taking pictures of them. The young boy in “Stay Strong” approached Delphine and told her to take a photo of him.

“This was the first time where I thought to understand what was different in my photography,” Delphine recalls. “He is giving me. I am not asking him. There is a collaboration here because he’s like, ‘I’m here for you. Pick me.’ Like, ‘This is it. This is the picture. This is the post.’”

delphine diallo staystrong 03

“Stay Strong” was a turning point in Delphine’s photography career. Photo by Delphine Diallo

Delphine developed the photo a year later and was taken aback by its intensity. Previously working as a graphic designer, she doubted her artistic ambitions in photography. “Stay Strong,” she says, was the image that began to change everything for her. And although it would take another five years and a return to Senegal for her to truly believe she could be a photographer, she cites “Stay Strong” as both a catalyst of the past and a reminder within the present of her singular creative voice.

“This is it. This is the core of my transformation,” Delphine says. “The reason why I can make it today is because there was something that became so strong in me that nothing could stop me.” Since those early years she has exhibited around the world in Portugal, Italy, Senegal, and Germany as well as at major art events like Art Basel Miami and in institutions like the UN in New York and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

The life of an artist may brim with struggle and frustration, but determination—the kind Delphine first encountered with the young boy and the kind she embodies today through her numerous projects—is what ultimately keeps one going. “This kid is definitely the representation of as long as you are alive, my friend, there is no reason for you to give up on your dreams,” she says. “I know sometimes you have to let go of something, but never give up on your dreams.”

delphinediallo.com

A version of this article originally appeared in Sixtysix Issue 07 with the headline “Delphine Diallo.” Subscribe today.

Read the best design stories from around the globe, each week.