Photographer Deanna Dikeman had no idea her Sioux City parents would draw attention from people around the world.
But when The New Yorker published photos from a series of goodbyes, “I somehow touched on a universal theme,” she says. Folks from as far away as South Korea said they related to what she captured.
Shot between 1991 and 2017, the photos were merely a way to mark time. At the end of each visit to Sioux City, Dikeman would snap a shot or two of her parents, Gerald and Pat Dikeman, waving goodbye. “I usually took two or three. The maximum was 10,” she says. “I did it as a way to cope with the sadness of leaving. I hadn’t lived in Sioux City since I was in college.”
With each photograph, she documents the changes in her parents. Gradually, they become a little less animated. Sometimes, there’s a smile.
“Dad was always patient,” Dikeman says. “Mom would fuss and then she’d put up a mild protest: ‘Put that camera away. I have curlers in my hair.’”
Still, they complied. When Dikeman’s father died, her mother wanted the ritual to end: “No more photos, Deanna.” But, Dikeman pressed on and got shots of mom alone, mom in a retirement community, mom with Dikeman’s son, Theron.
“I knew the last picture would be the empty driveway” of the Morningside home, she says.
Dikeman didn’t know she had a book until she read about the MACK First Book Award, a British competition for photographers. “If you’ve never been published, you could send in your project,” she says. She combed through her slides, produced a prototype and sent it off. Dikeman made the organization’s short list and will find out in May if she’s a winner.
“I think the New Yorker saw it a week after the short list was announced and called me.”
When the story ran on the magazine’s website, the floodgates of recognition opened. More than 56,000 viewers on Instagram saw parts of “Leaving and Waving” (what she called the prototype); more than 700 people commented.
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Now, there’s hope of a book deal. Because her only copy is with the judges, Dikeman says she could make changes before ink is put to paper.
Still, “Leaving and Waving” has struck a nerve.
When her son, Theron, left their home in Columbia, Missouri, to start his first job in St. Louis, he looked at her and said, “Mom, aren’t you going to take a picture?”
She got her camera and quickly took the shot. “This is so funny,” she remembers her son says. “It was just you and me and grandma and grandpa and now it’s something else.”
Back when she was a student at East High School (“the beautiful old building they tore down,” she says), Dikeman wasn’t a photographer. She was interested in science and got bachelor's and master's degrees from Purdue University. Following graduation, “I got a corporate job where I wrote papers for executives.”
Uninspired, she noticed a class in photography at a community college and decided to see what it was like. “I didn’t eat. Time flew,” she says.
Realizing photography was her passion, she quit the corporate job, went to work as a photographer’s assistant and never looked back. “It was the first thing I ever loved to do. It took until I was 31.”
Since then, Dikeman’s photographs have appeared at the Sioux City Art Center (where a director there helped title an early project, “Relative Moments”) and other national museums.
The family photo concept was sparked when a fellow photographer saw a shot she had taken of her father at a grill. “The light was good. The moment was good. And this launched into a whole discussion about the pictures I had been taking.”
In addition to art photography, Dikeman does commercial work. Friends have suggested she do “for their families what I did for mine, but it’d be hard to hire out. You just have to hang out with your subjects.”
Mom and dad, she says, eventually ignored her whenever she pulled out her camera. “Dad probably held still a bit longer – he was always so patient and understanding – but they never wanted to pose.”
Now, she’s convinced they’d be extremely proud. “At first they were puzzled by what I was doing but, eventually, they got it.”
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