His pictures capture timeless memories of freedom and of life. The pictures taken by Viennese photographer Alex Dietrich at Italian beach resorts, represent a kind of “la dolce vita” for the new millennium. They are reminiscent of a special feeling, of summer holidays, and of one’s own childhood.
What does summer mean for you?
Sun, light, warmth, and exertion. A pleasant kind of exertion – everything takes a bit more of an effort, especially when it’s really humid, and it isn’t even any cooler in the shade or at night. People looking to cool off in the water, seem more similar, social limitations disappear; and, despite the heat, a relaxed and pleasant mood reigns by the sea, a river or a lake. You enjoy the summer evenings when the sun retires much later. Everyone wants to be outside; everything is happening outside. Games, concerts, theatre, outdoor cafés, markets… In my opinion a lot more stuff is happening with people together.
L’estate is Italian for summer. Why Italy?
On the one hand, the project represents my discovery of Italy. Because of my family in France, I was and remain very much a Francophile. But some time ago, I went quite spontaneously on two short, consecutive trips with friends to northern Italy, and somehow I was hooked. Since then, I have been there frequently, and I love it – especially by the sea. On the other hand, I am amazed by projects such as La lunga strada di sabbia by Pasolini & Paolo di Paolo, who drove by car all over the “boot”. I also love Claude Nori’s book, Un été italien, and photos by Luigi Ghirri. And, most importantly, I was pushed by my girlfriend, Leonie Novotny, with whom I carried out this project. She will accompany the photos with texts, and I’ll accompany her texts with photos.
Your series is a long-term project. How does the summer come up with new images year after year?
They come up because in summer I quite simply love to be outside, so I have plenty of experiences. Every year, I even discover new areas in Vienna that I had never noticed before. I meet other people who show me new things; or during the colder months I’m inspired with ideas that I collect together and that I want to realise in summer. And there is a certain time pressure – real summer in Vienna doesn’t last so long, especially if you don’t always have time, or when there’s a week with only rain predicted. This means that the days for taking pictures just melt away. So something “must” come out of the few days.
How do you go about choosing your motifs?
When I get to a new place, I try to hold back somewhat with the photographing, because everything still appears so exciting and interesting. The best photos mostly come about after I’ve got to know the surroundings, and then I know what is really interesting for me. I always have the camera with me: I either see a situation that I want to capture immediately, or I see a place or a person – but it feels as though something is missing somehow. Then I wait and hope that the appropriate moment will come along. If that doesn’t happen, I return to the place until I can take the photo that I’d envisioned.
You only take black and white pictures. Is that a conscious decision?
That was something that crystallised almost fifteen years ago, when I was studying. Personally, I like it more. Not only the look, but the process as well. I can develop black and white film myself without great effort, and printing them in the darkroom is also easier. I rarely try working with colour film, and I rarely like the results. However, I don’t categorically reject the idea that there could be a project where I would use colour.
It is not just the lack of colour that makes your pictures look almost retrospective.
My tendency towards nostalgia plays a big role in that. Without thinking about it too much, I’m looking for pictures that appear timeless. With timeless, I mean that they could have been taken 60 or even 100 years ago, or maybe just last week. Of course, that’s incredibly difficult. There are so many things that make it easy to realise that they are contemporary, such as clothing or smartphones. This even applies to the beach: swimwear is also subject to trends. Luckily for me, however, virtually every trend comes round again. Apart from choosing the motif, there’s nothing that I do – I don’t use a specific, older lens; I don’t process the pictures in a special way; I only retouch them to remove dust. I also don’t crop the photos just because something bothers me.
Is summer timeless?
I wish summer was timeless, meaning that it would always be summer. Then again, if that were the case it would no longer be so special. I think that’s exactly what makes summer seem so timeless to me. The specialness of it. A special feeling. Memories of summer holidays as a child. Maybe I can manage to evoke a bit of the feeling you get, when you see a photo taken during a summer holiday 30 years ago. Timeless memories. If I even manage to do that to a small degree, then I’m happy.
Alex Dietrich was born in Vienna in 1987, and grew up in the city’s Simmering district. When he was young, he followed an impulse, bought himself a small, digital camera, and began taking photos of friends and music bands. This resulted in his studying Artistic Photography at FotoK in Vienna. Since then, he has produced a number of DIY photozines, a book titled Da letzte Schmäh (The Last Joke – published by Text/Rahmen Verlag), and participated in many group exhibitions as well as some solo ones. In addition to his artistic creativity, he also works in the photography branch. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.