Photographer Alexandra Diez de Rivera reveals how she is set on reinventing children’s portraiture

“I love working with children, they don’t have that self-conscious side that adults do. Children get genuinely excited – they’re not thinking about looking good, they’re much more natural,” says Alexandra Diez de Rivera. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Diez de Rivera enjoys working with the younger generation. A former graphic designer, she made her name with her alternative family portraits; surreal images that feature such fantastical scenes as children throwing buckets of water over their parents and toddlers swinging on ropes tied to a staircase. “I like to create the chaos of family life,” says Diez de Rivera.

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Now the Paris-based photographer has turned her focus to children’s portraiture, in particular chiaroscuro images that resemble renaissance paintings. “It began with my children, it always begins with them,” says Diez de Rivera, a mother of three boys aged nine, six and one. “Having my own family, you start to understand things. You begin to know all the joys, and all the sorrows of life. It’s definitely inspiring.” The other motivation was a chance find: a collection of antique childrenswear that she discovered in old trunks at her stepfather’s family estate in rural England. “Nobody had really looked through them, so it was nice to be able to resuscitate these clothes and give them a second life. Although my stepfather wasn’t very happy with the idea at the beginning! He didn’t want them to leave the house,” she confesses. “But then when he saw the photos he was really excited.” And it’s no wonder; the pictures are striking. Solemn, playful or curious – each of the children’s personalities comes into sharp relief through the interplay of darkness and light. “I looked at portraits of the time and studied where the painters put the light and basically reproduced it in my studio after about a 1000 takes!” Diez de Rivera explains. Although the images echo period paintings, they are mounted without a frame directly on plexiglass for a modern finish. This juxtaposition of old and new results in a work, that is in Diez de Rivera’s own words, “timeless.” So after subverting the typical family photo and breathing new life into children’s portraiture, what’s next on her agenda? “There’s another children’s portrait I’ve got in mind. I like the idea of painting on top of photographic work, like the Japanese photographer Araki. I have a sort of vision of pictures that I’d like to do, but I haven’t started yet.” Judging by Diez de Rivera’s past portfolio, it’s best to expect the unexpected.

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(If you would like to book your own alternative family or children’s portrait visit alexddr.com)