Monday, July 22, 2024

Art to Heart: James “dirtykics” Dickerson

Street photographer connects with Toledoans through the images he creates

James “dirtykics” Dickerson combats depression one flash at a time. Dickerson finds that photography works as an “antidepressant” for him, connecting his passion for taking photos with the joy of human connection. His work focuses on people living their everyday lives around the City of Toledo. His captivating photographs depict the diversity and emotional timbre of Toledo’s citizens. 

“I always say photography is my antidepressant because those moments I share with other people are uplifting for me,” Dickerson explains. He captures images of people from all walks of life, different races, religions, happy, sad, angry or joyful; Dickerson is there ready to capture the image, keeping a camera with him at all times — his Rolleiflexor his cell phone.

A person with his hand against his head and eyes closed.
Photo by James “dirtykicks” Dickerson’s portfolio at dirtykics.com.

A period of depression led Dickerson to pick up street photography as a hobby. To keep him active, the self-taught photographer began casing the streets during the bits of downtown he found between dropping off and picking up his children from school or after he got off work late at night. These sojourns inspired him to document the everyday interactions of people in town.

“Before I really started to focus on people, by being outside and talking to different folks who saw me with a camera, they would chat with me. I felt like I really appreciated those moments I shared with somebody, and I didn’t want to forget that,” Dickerson said. “I did not want those to be just conversations we had and then we went about our day. It was something that I wanted to be able to sit with and think about, to always be able to reflect on that conversation I had with someone or just a scene or image that I wanted to remember through a photograph.” 

A Focus on People 

Two men sitting at a bench.
Photo by James “dirtykicks” Dickerson’s portfolio at dirtykics.com.

Rather than taking photos of buildings or landscapes, Dickerson found pictures of people more engaging and organic. And as a self-described “naturally introverted” person, portrait photography also provided him with a personal challenge. “There’s a greater reward attached to me photographing people, and being able to chat with folks from all walks of life,” Dickerson said. “I’m not there to make them feel bad because they’re smoking weed or drinking at 11 in the morning. I hate when people try to push their biases on other folks. You’re in their space, you need to appreciate who this person is, and if this is how they comfort themselves at 11 in the morning, you need to accept that.”

Adding a layer of realism to his organic pursuit of reality, Dickerson’s photos are printed in black and white. He develops them himself. His work is currently on display at the Toledo Museum of Art until July 14.

This unique and intimate portrayal of life in Toledo beckons viewers to take a closer look at people’s lives through spontaneous encounters and film photography,” the Toledo Museum of Art website describes the exhibit.


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This is Dickerson’s first exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art, and his first-ever museum exhibition. For him, the experience has proven more than he could have hoped for. “It was a dream come true, to be able to have my first museum show and then also have a major influence on the look and feel of it. I couldn’t ask for a better experience,” he said.

A little girl sitting on the sidewalk outside a house with a porch. On the porch an older person is sitting.
Photo by James “dirtykicks” Dickerson’s portfolio at dirtykics.com.

The exhibit, “In Order to Live,” is composed of 90 photographs of people living their lives around the City of Toledo. Stories are also attached to many of the images, introducing the viewer to the people in the images. The exhibit also includes a collage that was hand-cut and crafted by Dickerson.

“I sat down and thought about certain moments of my life as a photographer and what I would want to see on the wall, and it definitely had some impact,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson is hoping his work inspires others in the area to do a similar thing to create the “next wave of documentary photographers in Toledo.”  He is eager to mentor photographers to help teach them the different techniques used in street photography.

“I would love to help people grow their art and explore their neighborhoods, because there are so many stories to be told,” Dickerson said. “There’s so many stories that I can’t get to because I have a full-time job. So it’d be great to see other people doing the same thing.”

View James “dirtykicks” Dickerson’s portfolio at dirtykics.com.

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