As a young boy in Ohio, Virgil DiBiase started taking snaps on the family Leica and never stopped. His portraits are sharp yet accessible, and capture seemingly-ordinary people and places, proving them extraordinary through his lens. His images cover ground from all over the US; across rural Indiana, small towns, fairs, and country roads. Whilst in New York City his photographic essay Washington Square Dogs came to life, a fascinating depiction of the bustling inner-city park and the canine and human characters that inhabit it.
How did you get your start in photography?
I was exposed to photography as a young boy, probably my first language was photography. My father was a photographer and he had a darkroom in the basement. I loved the smell of fixer, the red light and the magic of seeing a print appear in the tray. I remember just snapping away, not even caring about what the image looked like, but just exposing film so I could run to the darkroom and make prints. I still have my darkroom equipment, but for now it’s in boxes and I have converted to the digital world.
You seem very adept at capturing what is going on around you. Do you photograph on the fly?
I usually have a small camera with me wherever I go, and I am mostly interested in making photos of people, (mainly) strangers. I take their photos and of course they see me because I am physically very close to them, then I thank them. Sometimes they don’t notice but usually they do. For sure I influence the image by making myself present, but for me it works because it feels more engaging, and since most photos are garbage at least I had an engaging moment in the process!
Your work is predominantly in black and white. Why have you chosen this particular aesthetic?
I grew up with black and white everything—TV, magazines, newspapers and film. I am most comfortable with black and white. It allows me to focus on isolating the subject and looking for light, shadows, shapes. Colour is overwhelming for me. Every time I work in colour it seems that the main subject is the colour itself. I applaud those who are successful in making colour photos.
Washington Square Dogs captures the park and its going’s on beautifully. What drew you to it?
I made these photos the first time I returned to NYC after 25 years. I stayed in the Village and it was so different from when I remembered it in the 80’s. Everyone had dogs. I mean, everyone. And I am a dog lover. I have lived with dogs since childhood and currently have a German Shepherd. Can’t imagine life without a dog. My intention was to make photos of people. Street portraits. I followed the people with dogs and discovered the dog park in Washington Square Park. I was the only one dogless. I spent an entire week in the park. It was its own village. There was the Mayor of the dog park. The enforcers of the rules. The dog walkers. The social club drinking latte’s. The intellectuals reading poetry. All there with their dogs. The only obvious message here is that no matter where we live, no matter how dense the human population in a city like NYC, our canine friends have evolved with us, need us, enjoy us and we them.
All images courtesy of Virgil DiBiase
We are thrilled to introduce Dog-Friendly, a collection of city guides for dog-loving people, created together with our long-time contributor, photographer Winnie Au, and fellow enthusiasts, indie publisher Hoxton Mini Press. Available for purchase here.
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