A visit to photographer Mark Diamond’s studio is like stepping into another world. Actually it’s several worlds, as the longtime South Florida photographer is known for work in holograms and 3D printing. He’s also done a huge body of work in portraiture and is working on a book of photos of his Chihuahuas madcap adventures in Wynwood mural land.
Fast talking and cerebral, Diamond has his trigger finger on the pulse of contemporary art and photography, as his imagery ranges from portraits of artists making art to actual art to music legends. His bright open studio has racks hung with his work and work in progress, a wall of printers and drawers full of work line the walls. Parked outside is his white station wagon hand painted with kooky zippy creatures by friend and famed street artist Kenny Scharf.
His two Chihuahuas Thelma and Weezy zip around the studio and courtyard. They have been making appearances in his shots of the dogs amusingly interacting with murals as he drives around in the Scharf mobile.
“Each shot literally takes no more than 30 seconds to a minute,” Diamond says. “These dogs just walked into my open studio door one day with no collars but healthy, happy and friendly. I tried to find owners for weeks to no avail so they stayed. I think it was a plot by the mother dog to get the daughter into show biz.”
A patron of his has become so enamored with the photos they are funding a book of them in exchange for some prints.
A photographer since he was 15 years old working for the Miami Herald, the now defunct Daily Planet and media mogul Jerry Powers, Diamond got this big break when Annie Liebovitz asked him to cover the Democratic National Convention in Miami.
A chance encounter with laser printers 30 years ago in a basement photo lab in NYC sparked an interest in the technology. Diamond went home and said “I need a laser printer Dad”. Dad helped out, this led to a show in Miami and to Diamond being the first one in the area to have this kind of technology.
“It was trippy then, it’s trippy now,” he says matter of factly. When pressed for why this specific technology is so fascinating he says “I think it’s because the Universe is multi-dimensional but photography is 2D, it belies the true nature of the Universe and real life. A photograph decides what view point – and only that view point – you are going to see. Maybe the 3D fascination is a desire to reproduce the experience of real life. There is a shift in perception when 3D enters the the picture – literally. It brings back a way of seeing that you didn’t have before.”
There is a shimmer and motion triggered gleam to a holographic photo and some bizarre eye perception shifts. On a detailed blown up shot of a cactus, Diamond tells me to place my finger on one of the leaves. To my eye it seemed my finger could actually go behind the leaf, but then it hits the surface of the image and the illusion disappears. He has also made holograms that are 4 second films in acetate, following a trumpet blowing or a painter swishing his brush. Moving your head back and forth across the screen makes the magic happen.
“Of course all this is nothing new,” Diamond says as I weave around the studio bobbing my head across images and tripping over Chihuahuas. “Salvador Dali was really into this, and he spent a lot of time and money on the technology in the 1950s and 60s. He made some early holograms, like the one of Alice Coopers head, that is on display in the Dali Museum in Sarasota. Picasso attempted to do this without the technology but showing both a profile and a head on view at once in paint. DisneyWorld in the 1970s did hologram-ish projections at their attractions in Orlando like the couples dancing in the haunted house and the pirates heads in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Seeing is not believing with holograms. The other great thing is that what I’m doing works regardless of content because it’s just so compelling to look at.”
That may be true, but as a true artist Diamond makes his 3D images unusual and compelling. A series of artist portraits works particularly well – like the one of Shepard Fairey’s face overlaid with his trademark Obey giant lines. A flock of black doves flying against a white sky background is ethereal and moving. You can almost hear the wings flapping.
This work really needs to be seen in person to get the full effect, but one way around the problem of this work translating onto computer screens is to make a Gif of the images Diamond has shot for the 3D picture. While they can look like the quickie Gif films being passed around on the internet, they go beyond that territory in the art.
Diamond has a few series of work going in addition to the Chihuahua murals, he is working on a large scale series of blown up vegetables and plants shot from above on a black background. This moves into some pretty surreal territory as a dandelion and a cactus and a cabbage starts to look like a snowflake or a human cell or another world altogether. He plans to blown them up large and exhibit them in a grid grouping to make the viewers eye really wander and work over the images.
“This is the biggest thing to ever happen to cabbage kind!” he exclaims seriously.
While I was at the studio, the owners of Miami based Panther Coffee came by to discuss using his 3D printouts of coffee beans and rotating machines as table décor and store signs for something really local and unusual. The meeting brimmed with ideas of how the technology could help translate the roundness of a coffee bean and the process of a moving grinding machine. Just another day at the laser print world headquarters for a 3D photographer living in in a 2D world.