Deanna Dikeman has always found the real to be more fascinating than the ideal. Over her 30-year career in photography, she has focused her lens on the ordinary and familiar, from suburban landscapes and thrift store offerings to family members and lost pets, delighting in personality more than perfection.
Years ago, this was driven home to me when Deanna took a photograph of my garden at what I thought was the height of its summer glory. What drew her eye, however, was a soggy hydrangea bloom that had fallen into the birdbath, a moment she captured with a Polaroid camera.
As it turns out, Dikeman has always had a special place in her heart for birdbaths.
“When I was a little girl, my dad always had a birdbath and it was my job to fill it up after school,” she said. “One day, when he came home from work, it was empty, and he was so upset with me. I let him down; I let the birds down.”
Over the years, Dikeman took numerous photos of her father and his birdbath in her “Relative Moments” series, which also includes multiple shots of her parents waving goodbye after Dikeman’s visits to them. Fifteen years ago, one of the first Block Artspace Project Walls featured a Dikeman “Leaving and Waving” photograph. Now, a selection of 90 of them, dating from 1991 until her mother’s passing in 2017, can be seen in the exhibit “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” on view through Sept. 22 at the Charlotte Street Foundation’s La Esquina Gallery.
Since her father’s passing in 2009, Dikeman has come to equate birdbaths with his presence. “I filled the birdbath on the day he died and took a picture of it,” she said. “Ever since I’ve had a house, I’ve had a birdbath outside my kitchen window.”
A year ago, Dikeman returned to the birdbath theme in earnest. It was a stressful time, and she sought solace in “quiet backyard pictures.” “The photographs are sweet little hopeful things, kind of haiku in a way, so peaceful and satisfying,” she said.
It started with fireflies. “I went outside last summer and there were so many fireflies,” she related, “but there was a birdbath out there, and I got really interested.” “Birdbath with fireflies, June 2017,” a shot at dusk, registers the insects’ presence as curving arcs of yellow, and the birdbath as silent witness to this nocturnal drama. She returned to the scene during a rainstorm the following spring, capturing the drops activating the water in the basin, and the way the falling streaks of rain play to the vertical stalks of dandelions rising from the grass.
Early on, other possibilities emerged: “I started seeing the reflection in the birdbath,” Dikeman said, registering her fascination in images such as “Birdbath with ash tree, June 2017” where the still water is a mirror on the heavens, with the undulating rim as a frame.
“PJ’s back yard, August 2017” a shot of a friend’s garden, contains a moment of tension: “Her birdbath was empty, which was kind of stressful,” Dikeman said.
Aiming her lens earthward, she focused on puddles. “A puddle is just a birdbath on the ground,” she mused, going graphic in the street shot, “Puddle with arrow, March 2018.”
Sprinklers, too, exerted an allure, as seen in “Sprinklers with Old Dutch truck, July 2017.”
“They look like little fountains,” she said. “The attraction probably has to do with my dad watering the yard. I have so many pictures of him with the garden hose. He was always out there watering things, checking the rain gauge.”
“Now that he’s gone, maybe this is my way of communing: I can do sprinklers and birdbaths.”
All photos courtesy of the artist and Haw Contemporary