Meet a Local: Meet Sandy Dimke
By Whitney Rauenhorst | An artist is a skilled performer — someone who practices and produces art in various creative ways, and local photographer Sandy Dimke is one of Beaufort’s local artists.
From once owning an ad agency to becoming one of the founders of Beaufort’s Photography Club and one of Beaufort’s renowned local artists, Dimke tells a story with each photo she takes. After graduating from the University of Albany with a master’s degree with in marketing, Dimke moved to Connecticut where she opened an ad agency in the 70s. A client approached her in the late 70s, asking her to take pictures for an ad, and from there her passion for photography fell into place.
“I started taking pictures, and [my love for photography] kind-of evolved from there … the whole concept of my ad agency changed because I actually starting doing more [photography] with the advertising,” Dimke said.
But she didn’t stop there. Sandy became involved with photography by becoming the president and past member of the Candlewood Camera Club in Danbury, Connecticut, and when she and her husband moved to Beaufort, she kept her passion going.
“When we moved down here, I decided no — I wasn’t going to open up an agency. I was just going to play with the photography and technically retire,” Dimke said. “I love to travel, so I started to, as I started to travel through my career, I started to take more pictures.”
In 2005 Dimke and a few other residents established the Photography Club of Beaufort in order to help keep photography evolving in
Beaufort. “I was in the photography club up in Connecticut, and when we came down here, I was one the founders of our photography club in Beaufort just to keep photography going,” Dimke said. “It was kind of floundering [because] the Arts Associations don’t think of photography as a fine art, so that was one of my goals — to have them think of photography as one of the arts instead of a stepchild. I do a lot of teaching and mentoring and stuff like that, so that helps get people more involved.”
Dimke has also become associated with the Beaufort Art Association in addition to publishing a photographic essay, “Hands Across Beaufort.” Photographing the hands of Beaufortonians, she not only captured the essence of the people but what they love to do or do for a living. Helping illustrate Beaufort’s 300th anniversary in 2011, her book illustrates 100 images, which is available for purchase at Beaufort Art Association downtown or her website: http://www.dimkephotoart.com.
Dimke has expanded her photography skills beyond the Beaufort setting by traveling to Cuba. Because Cuba is closed to tourism, the U.S. Department of Treasury only provides 140 special visas or contracts to organizations groups or contacts. Along with 13 other photographers, a People-to-People program authorized by the U.S. Treasury Department, helped sponsor Dimke’s travels.
Expecting to capture architectural shots, she found much more within Cuba’s culture.
“Because I had been an architecture photographer for years, I expected [photograph] buildings. That is what I thought I was going to be doing, [but] because the buildings were in such disrepair, it was depressing to be photographing them,” she said. “I didn’t want to come back with just pictures of buildings that were decaying, and once we started meeting people, the people were the ones that had the life in them, so it was much more exciting to [photograph] them.”
And that was it. The people of Cuba caught her heart, and from there on, her focus was to capture the spirit of Cuba through the people.
“It was so easy to capture the spirit of Cuba through the people,” Dimke said. “I wanted to be able to show people what it was like in people in Cuba because everyone is so curious. All they know is the old 50s cars. That is what they associate with Cuba, so I wanted to show, particularly when we got to see a lot of the arts.
Along with the other photographers, she saw ballet and flamingo dance classes, boxing gyms and graphic art studios, capturing more than the stereotypical 1950s vintage cars.
“We went into a graphics art studio where they were making etchings and stuff like that, and when I saw how important the arts was to them,” she said. “It was their way of expressing themselves whether it was with color. Even their buildings were starting to be painted colorful, and so it was such a wonderful way even in Costa Rica, they use the colors to express themselves, and I wanted to show that this is what Cuba is like now.”
In addition to the art in Cuba, she also experienced the local community. One of her photographs titled, “The Long Hard Life,” features an older Cuban woman smoking a cigarette, which, for some, they could see just a woman, but for Dimke, she saw much more.
“The picture of the woman that I called ‘The Long Hard Life’ was one of the interesting pictures of the show. We were waiting to have lunch, and we saw her with her back on a stone building. The Cuban photographer asked if we could take a few pictures, and she could care less. She just shrugged her shoulders and was like eh whatever. We shot a few pictures of her, then she said something to the Cuban photographer, and my friends and I looked at each other because we had no idea what she was saying. They asked the Cuban photographer if she wanted some money, and she wanted soap. That tugged at our heartstrings because we couldn’t believe it, and of course we [didn’t have] soap with us. We were told to bring things like shampoo and condition and little things from the hotels.”
Money is an issue in Cuba, however, according to Dimke, the people don’t seem to mind.
“One of the photographers we worked with was a doctor, a cancer researcher, but he told us … that he works only a few hours a month on cancer research because he can’t make any money that way. “[As] a photographer, he cant make some real money that way, and some of the medical doctors go to different places in Central America or Spain and work six months to a year and come back and have money to spend on the luxuries. But they don’t seem to mind. The whole change for socialism started in the 60s, so that’s more than 50 years, and because of that, [the] two generations [in Cuba don’t] know any different because this is their way of life. It’ll be hard when things change, and it’s ’gonna change soon.
However, because the people of Cuba have drawn Dimke in to their spirit and culture, the question is, will her new focus be on people?
“I have a trip coming up, but it’s totally a vacation trip. It’s the first time we’re going on a cruise, but we’re going the Turkey, Egypt, and Greece. And I was actually thinking about that same thing. Am I going to starting taking more pictures of people, now that I am in that atmosphere? And I don’t know,” Dimke said. “I don’t have that urge here [in Beaufort]. When I’m here, here in the Lowcountry, I
still have the urge to shoot nature, and birds and the beautiful trees and all of that. I don’t have any urge to shoot any people, but I think that’s because I’m not a photojournalist, and I’m not trying to captures things going on in the Lowcountry. But because I was trying to capture the essence of that culture for the people, that was the reason.”
However, what is clear is that like Dimke’s photographs, every kind of art should tell a story. And Dimke’s ability to tell a story with each of her photographs is one of several reasons her photographs were recently displayed in an exhibit at Beaufort Art Association and are currently featured in the 5 Star Artists exhibit at USCB.
“I didn’t know what I was going to find in Cuba, so I didn’t know I wanted to put it into an exhibit, but I know when I was there I remember specifically thinking that these need to be shown,” Dimke said. “I wanted to give some talks, so people understand what is going on. I thought this was a good opportunity to show people what Cuba is like, [and] it’s sad because the people don’t have the money to repair some of these beautiful, historic buildings.”
Her work will be featured in the 5 Star Artists exhibit at USCB’s Center for the Arts through August 21st.
Whitney Rauenhorst is currently a senior English major at Clemson working for The Tiger newspaper as an editor and writer and has also worked at Clemson’s Digital Press. Whitney is involved in community volunteering with Gamma Sigma Sigma’s Epsilon Beta chapter. She has also studied abroad in Glasgow, Scotland…but this summer she’s back in Beaufort preparing for her senior year, the GRE, and life after college. Whitney will be interning with eatstayplaybeaufort.com for the summer.