Rineke Dijkstra
Holland, 1959
Rineke Dijkstra studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam from 1981 to 1986. She then worked as a formal portrait photographer until the early 1990s, when she embarked on her career as an artist. Though she continued to take portraits, they now reflected her own personal style. The ‘Beaches’ series (1992–1996), for which she photographed adolescents on beaches from the Ukraine to the USA, always alone and with their backs to the sea, gained her international attention and defined a different approach to taking portraits of young people. Her models are always presented posing and looking directly at the camera, but they invariably confront us with the particular gaze—at once fragile and challenging—that characterises adolescents when they are being observed. The subjects appear self-conscious, trapped in a moment of personal change. Dijkstra’s models are young people from around the world of all social classes, not just the beautiful, golden teens that feature so prominently in the history of photography. In Julie, February 29, 1994 we see a young single mother with her newborn baby standing in front of the walls of a hospital. The subject of the portrait is representative of a type of character strongly marked by the fragility time imprints on young people whose life experience bears no connection to the ‘social consumer’ role assigned to youth. But Dijkstra also turns her attention to young clubbers in her first video, which has the same stylistic tone as her photographs (Buzz Club, Liverpool, England, March 1, 1997). She has taken group and individual portraits of subjects ranging from bullfighters to soldiers in different armies, particularly the Israel Defence Forces. The importance of portraiture in the history of art and photography is reflected in all Dijkstra’s work, though she is far from figures like August Sander and classical portraitists. In fact the influence of certain figures in the history of painting is clearer than that of photographers of the past; her work is more deeply marked by images from the Dutch humanist tradition than by contemporary schools of photography. The most significant difference between Dijkstra’s work and that of other portrait photographers lies in the composition of the models’ poses, the intense frontality of her shots, and the fact that she has become something of a specialist in the social sector comprising young people aged between twelve and eighteen. In her portraits, in some sense the model is presented as he or she wishes to be seen, something that usually occurs only in painting, not in photography. Also, the freshness of the models, combined with the sense of isolation characteristic of adolescence, defines a body of work that focuses on the gaze and feelings, and in which time, particularly the passage of time, plays an essential role. Vondelpark, Amsterdam, May 12, 2006 belongs to a series of portraits featuring children and adolescents in public parks, sometimes dressed in their school uniforms after leaving class. As in all her work, the large format is essential. Isolated in the image, the adolescent subject shows all the signs of physical transformation associated with the development of the body. The model looks directly at the camera, offering us clues about his individual identity, but the image also serves as a generational portrait that transcends the political and geographical boundaries which define the world of adults.
Rosa Olivares