Art in the In-Between: Creating Closure in Deanna Dikeman’s Narrative Storytelling

Deanna Dikeman, “Leaving and Waving”, 7/1991

You’ve heard it before: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” What happens when one picture acts as one word, and grouped together in a series to form sentences, paragraphs, novels?
Deanna Dikeman is a Kansas City-based photographer who started out on a journey three decades ago to document daily life. In a larger series titled Relative Moments, Dikeman documents quiet scenes observing family, friends and neighborhoods. Each individual snapshot depicts a certain stillness, a breath, a commonplace act that is neither the first nor the last of its kind. We are not only meant to see the moment captured in the photograph, but the sum of all photographs in the series.
It is in this “in-between” — not just within the confines of the photograph or work of art — but between one frame and the next that we understand the story.
This ritual is lovingly and methodically spelled out in Dikeman’s series, Leaving and Waving, documenting the moments of saying goodbye to her parents in the driveway of their Sioux City, Iowa home. We only see the leaving and the waving; we never see the in-between moments. Author and comic artist Scott McCloud defined it in his 1993 book Understanding Comics as “this phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole has a name. It’s called closure.” He continues, “In our daily lives, we often commit closure, mentally completing that which is incomplete based on past experience.” Our brains do this naturally in comic books, stop motion animation and in narrative storytelling like Dikeman’s.

Deanna Dikeman, “Leaving and Waving”, 3/2004

In sequence, the artwork leaps from the gallery wall into our own imaginations. We envision what is not there: the extraordinary moments, the graduations and weddings and funerals; the life-changing moments of anxiously waiting for a phone call or tearing open a much-anticipated letter; the magical moments in life that escape definition — that knowing glance from across the dinner table or making an entrance into the room. Within the frame, we see literal snapshots of time. When we consider Dikeman’s photographs, with the open garage door and the sloping driveway and the increasingly frail figures, we fill in what we are not seeing: the aging process, the tough conversations, the sadness, the lives lived in the “in-between.”

The personal narrative that Dikeman’s work creates begs the question: What is the artwork? It could be in the performative act of waving and saying goodbye; an act that occurs countless times over the span of 27 years. It could be in the ritual documentation of the performance; an intentional photograph taken as proof it happened. It could be the physical artwork printed on paper; a series of 8″ x 10″ photos mounted on a gallery wall, each dated and carefully arranged chronologically. Maybe the artwork exists only in the in-between, only in the moments our minds see Dikeman’s images and fill in the gaps in the story based on our own experiences. Or perhaps the story of Leaving and Waving exists within each one of us.
Leaving and Waving: Deanna Dikeman and The Golden Age: Ariel Bowman are on view at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph, Missouri until Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022.
Financial assistance provided by the St. Joseph, Missouri Visitors Bureau.

–Jill Carlson, Marketing & Communications Manager

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