Thursday, December 9, 2010

This photo show is up close and personal

By Michelle  Manetti

This photographer gets up close and personal.

In his new exhibit, “Valentino’s Children,” opening on Dec. 10 at Acres Gallery, Kurt Dietrich Wilberding gets closer than a Chuck Close portrait to his subjects — long-standing Italian-Americans living in Carroll Gardens — in an attempt to document some living history.

“Annie Leibovitz said, ‘Photograph the people and things closest to you,’” said Wilberding, who had done fashion photography in distant locales before Leibovitz’s words inspired him to train his lens on his neighborhood. “It made me pause. I realized I was photographing the people and things farthest from me.” 

Wilberding didn’t have a look very far for his new inspiration.

“I would see one woman everyday that lives down the street from me, Milly. She is 95-years-old and has lived here all her life,” said Wilberding. “When you come across someone like Milly, you start to wonder, ‘Who else is around that has seen how this neighborhood has changed? What was it once like? What has been improved? What has been lost?’ ”

The resulting show, which is named after the Italian actor Rudolph Valentino and Louis Valentino Jr., a local fireman who died in the line of duty, is a collection of portraits of older generation Italian-Americans and mementos of things dear to them, such as passports. 

In his striking portraits, some of his subjects avoid the camera’s gaze, while others look you dead in the eye — daring you to look back. In all, the face fills nearly the entire frame for an intimate look at our neighbors.
Through that process, Wilberding hopes there can be some cross-generational bonding, too.

“There can be some tension between people who have lived here their entire lives and new people,” he said. “I want there to be a communication between them, so people like Milly know we appreciate their presence in Brooklyn.”

“Valentino’s Children” at Acres Gallery [114 Smith St. between Pacific and Dean streets in Carroll Gardens, (917) 428-3810], Dec. 10-Jan. 23. For info, visit


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