Capturing The Port On Polaroid

Photographer Ingrid Dietrich (photo by Joshua Stecker)

Most prefer to be either in front of or behind the camera, not both, and not Ingrid Dietrich.

Dietrich, with her fiery red mane and sweet disposition, has made San Pedro her home since 2008. Her career has her spending time both behind the camera and in front of it — and in some cases, she coaches those taking to the fashion runway.

In 2004, Dietrich, 34, moved to the United States from El Salvador. She came to the United States with the goal of continuing her education and “exploring a new world of possibilities.”

It took less than a year for Dietrich to realize that California was, indeed, the perfect fit. She says Southern California is very similar in climate to Central America, which was a major draw in moving away from home.

“I fell in love with California. I always knew deep down I wanted to come here to study,” she says. “The ocean, the weather, the stability, I just knew it was the perfect fit, and the closest I could get to home without being home.”

Upon arriving, Dietrich studied business and entrepreneurship at Santa Monica College. She later received a Certificate in Business and Website Design, and most recently she graduated from OTIS College of Arts and Design with a major in Professional Photography.

After moving around the Los Angeles area, Dietrich made her home in San Pedro.

She moved to the portside community in 2008, but says she fell in love with the community shortly after arriving in California when she made the trip to San Pedro as a tourist.

“At first I was a tourist, I traveled all over the community,” she says. “But then, in 2006, I took a helicopter tour from Long Beach and saw the city from above, and I just knew I had to move, and did so just under two years later.”

That year, Dietrich responded to an advertisement in the PennySaver for an in-home care assistant for a San Pedro couple. The husband is a quadriplegic, and his wife needed assistance in caring for him on days she needed to run errands.

“I was looking for a job, they had posted an advertisement, and I met them and it has been a perfect fit,” Dietrich says, adding that this San Pedro family was another big reason she decided to move into the community. “I love them, I really do, they are my family.”

Dietrich says she has grown a lot as a person since making the trek from El Salvador to California, but one thing has remained a constant, and that’s her love for photography.

It started back in 1987, when on a trip to Guatemala with her family, her father purchased her a “cute little purple pocket 110 film camera.” She said from that point forward, she never stopped taking pictures.

“There have been times in my life, while studying, that I really believed that architecture was my real passion,” she recalls. “At one point, I thought I would put down the camera, but then I had an architecture professor who made us pick up the camera, and it was this that changed my life.”

A Polaroid from Dietrich's "Port of Los Angeles - 1969 Land Polaroid" exhibition.

In October, Dietrich was a featured artist during the San Pedro International Film Festival, and this month, her current project, “Port of Los Angeles – 1969 Land Polaroid” will be exhibited at the Croatian Cultural Center.

“I have had many exhibitions all over Los Angeles,” she says. “But I haven’t had any in San Pedro, and I have wanted to share my work with this community for so long, so this means the world to me.”

Dietrich has been photographing San Pedro on her own time for many years, but it wasn’t until a friend gave her a 1969 Polaroid that she finally had a vision.

“For the past five years, I have dedicated six days each week to capturing the beauty of the city,” she says. “I am in love with the city, the magnificent, old architecture with a small town feel.”

The goal of the project was to bring out the “beauty of the old historical buildings in juxtaposition with the newest architecture of the city.”

To acquire this effect, Dietrich used a 50-year-old black and white Polaroid camera.

“I wanted to make the city look old,” she says. “I knew if I used digital photography to capture the old architecture and the new structures, I would have had to make modifications to make them look from the same time period, and I didn’t want that. I wanted the image to be pure, well planned, unique, somehow raw.”

Dietrich says the project was challenging because there is only one Polaroid — no negatives.

“This project really has made me pay attention to composition,” she says. “It was extremely challenging, but so rewarding, and I am beyond excited and honored to share the photographs with the residents of San Pedro.”

Dietrich, who has been featured in National Geographic three times, says her goal is to work full-time for the magazine that has been in publication since 1888.

“My dream would be to be hired by National Geographic,” she says. “But my goal, as of now, is to give back to the great community of San Pedro. I want my photographs to someday be my legacy, something I can leave with the community forever.” spt

“Port of Los Angeles – 1969 Land Polaroid” opens on First Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Croatian Cultural Center (510 W. 7th St.), and closes on Nov. 16. For more info, visit