Lunch with lydia

Lunch with Lydia: Wynwood Artist Mark Diamond looks at the big picture


Miami artist Mark Diamond makes photographs the way he spins stories: expansively; overlooking not the slightest detail; layering and then layering some more.

He’ll start telling you about one of his ongoing projects, a series of life-size holographic portraits of Native Americans in full tribal regalia, and that sets off a monologue about the historic role of artifacts imbued with magical power, which leads to a spiel about shamanistic rituals involving hallucinogens, which gets him to that famous photograph of our big blue marble, titled Earthrise, shot by an astronaut during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968.

But wait for it — he’ll tie everything together as seamlessly as he does the exhaustive number of images he’ll shoot of one subject, recording from every possible angle and perspective so that later he can painstakingly overlap all of those images and build from them his trippy three-dimensional works.

“That one photograph, that out-of-body view of ourselves from the moon, is said to have done more to invoke environmental consciousness than anything anyone said before it,” Diamond says as he explains the role of the image-maker. “There is a responsibility that artists either accept, or don’t, related to bringing up the general consciousness. This goes back to the idea of the shaman. Somebody has to have a vision and then be able to share that vision to help bring everybody else up to that point of consciousness about something, some idea. I’m not sure soup cans can do it. Or blue dogs. But once in a while you see a piece of art that really takes you there.”

For another of his ongoing projects, he hitches rides on helicopters to create aerial, 3-D photographs of South Florida landmarks, among them Vizcaya, the remaining homes of Stiltsville, Miami Marine Stadium, the Biltmore Hotel, the rising Perez Art Museum Miami. He hopes one day to publish an atlas of Miami, all of the images in 3-D.

“The majority of the population has stereo binocular vision. We see the world around us in three dimensions. That’s what’s normal,” says Diamond, 56, whose shoulder-length hair is usually kept in check by a backwards Kangol beret.

“What’s not normal is a two-dimensional photograph or painting. That’s an abstraction of reality. We have learned to interpolate the information we are given in a two-dimensional image. But there’s the story of the aboriginals who were given Polaroid photos of family members and friends and they didn’t understand what these images were because they hadn’t learned to extract from these two-dimensional representations what they were so familiar with in three dimensions.”

Diamond not only creates his own artworks in 3-D, but often is commissioned to document the works of others in the format.

“I think a two-dimensional photograph of a sculpture or of an art installation, even of a building, because architecture can be seen as monumental sculpture, is a type of art crime because you aren’t learning anything about the work’s volume in space. From the advent of photography, there was a desire to mimic what we see in three dimensions. Today, 3-D films and cellphones and point-and-shoot cameras that capture 3-D are getting more and more popular, but 3-D photographs go back to the 1850s. Representing an image the way we actually see it in reality is something people have been interested in doing for a very long time.”

Diamond, who in the 1980s was considered a leading holography artist, has exhibited his work at Wynwood Walls, Swampspace in the Design District and other galleries around town. But he has also done endless photography, holography and videography for clients such as Marriott Hotels, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Universal Studios, Kimberly-Clark. He spent more than two years documenting the rise of the Midtown Miami development in panoramic time-lapse 3-D.

“I was commissioned by the Midtown Group, but when the real estate bubble burst, the project was stopped,” says Diamond, also a musician, who grew up in Panama, speaks Spanish as easily as English and calls himself a “gringo with a greater affinity for Latin culture than for Anglo culture.” These days, he’s learning how to play the Cuban tres.

His parents, Hindi and Walter Diamond, were both journalists. His mother, who lives in South Florida, was a Latin American correspondent for United Press International, Life magazine and other publications, and his late father shot film of Sandinistas, insurgencies and other conflicts in Central and South America for NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report.

Mark, who started taking photos when he was 5, keeps his parents’ cameras from their Latin American journalism days in a display case at his El Portal home. By the time he was a teenager, he was shooting portraits of rock stars, political figures and other big names for various publications, including Miami’s old indie newspaper, Daily Planet.

In 1972, still just a kid, he got a call from Annie Leibovitz, who was then chief photographer for Rolling Stone magazine. She wanted him to cover the Miami stop of the Democratic National Convention.

“I was 16. I had just dropped out of high school, or was about to drop out of high school,” Diamond says. “She asks if I can meet Hunter Thompson at the Poodle Room in the Fontainebleau Hotel. I said I didn’t know what he looked like. She said, ‘You’ll figure it out.’ My job was to illustrate whatever he was writing. He was working on Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, which was serialized in Rolling Stone. I walked into the Poodle Room and found him at the bar. He was already three sheets to the wind.”

The work on display at Panther Coffee, all of it 3-D photography, is from recent years. Among the pieces is a triptych shot on Calle Ocho: hands involved in cigar rolling; in brewing Cuban coffee; in playing a game of dominoes. There’s an image of Diamond’s own ride, a white, 1989 Chevy Caprice station wagon framed by palm trees on Ocean Drive. A piece titled Bart Bakes Batter Boy, in which a Bart Simpson figurine looks like he’s about to stick the Pillsbury Doughboy in a toaster oven. And there are portraits of artists captured in Wynwood, from Miami’s Robert Chambers and Yuri Tuma to the internationally famed Shepard Fairey and Kenny Scharf.

Is there anyone in particular Diamond dreams about photographing in 3-D?

“A few years ago I did a 3-D portrait of a teenage kid for his private birthday party. I don’t think I’m allowed to say who it is, but his father is a major hip-hop mogul. It was a six-foot tall light box. Who else would I like to shoot? I have a lot of ideas. For instance, LeBron James. Imagine a 3-D holographic life-size image of Lebron James with a 3-year-old kid standing beside him. That would be pretty cool. That would evoke some emotion.’’

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