Rineke Dijkstra

Selected Works

Self-Portrait, Marnixbad, Netherlands, June 19, 1991

In 1990 Rineke Dijkstra had a bicycle accident that radically changed her life and the kind of work she made.

The first evidence of something new – the first picture of consequence she made after her accident – is a 1991 self-portrait that shows the artist in a bathing suit and cap in a shower after a grueling, thirty-lap swim that was part of her rehabilitation program. Taken with a newly purchased 4 x 5 field camera (one that she still uses today), which has a relatively wide-angle lens, she looks into the camera, at us- and at herself- fiercely. In the photograph, Dijkstra is exhausted; making it was almost an act of defiance. For such a dramatic origin, the picture appears modest, but her gaze is unsparing. She has made a document of an achievement, of returning to health, but it also documents a change in her very being. She is not the person she was before, nor is her work the same. „It was my first attempt to make a 'natural portrait', one based on reality,“ Dijkstra says, and she sees this self-portrait as the photograph from which the subsequent Beach Portraits (1992-2002) evolved.

Sandra S. Phillips, Twenty Years of Looking at People in Rineke Dijkstra: A retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2012

Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26, 1992

Rineke Dijkstra photographed children and young people in their swim clothing, or what served as such, on beaches in the United States, Polan, England, the Ukraine and Croatia. Alone, or sometimes in pairs or trios, the boys and girls are portrayed full-lenght on a small strip of beach in front of the sea and sky, the horizon halfway to their hips, somehow elevated by the low camera angle.

The most famous image from the Beach Portraits was taken in Kolobrzeg. It is of a girl, perhaps fifteen years old, in a green bathing suit. Her surroundings, and particularly her perhaps somewhat angular grace and pose remind one of Botticelli's Birth of Venus. There are still other of the beach portraits which are linked with the Botticelli painting: the plump American girl in an orange bikini has frequently been cast in this role. On closer examination the Polish girl appears to be the 'true' Venus, although she is the mirror image of the original, and the American not. Through her simplicity, in part determined by sociocultural factors, translated into her paleness and the old-fashioned bathing suit, she refers most convicingly to the historical abstraction, to what is iconic in the original.

Hripsimé Visser, The soldier, the disco girl, the mother and the Polish Venus. Regarding the Photographs of Rineke Dijkstra in Rineke Dijkstra. Portraits, Schirmer/Mosel, München 2004

Hilton Head Island, S.C., USA, June 22, 1992

In the summer of 1992 when Dijkstra began the Beach Portraits, she was thirty-three years old and unknown as an artist. By 1998, when she took the last picture in the series, Dijkstra has emerged as one of the most respected and exhibited photographers of her generation. In the Beach Portraits she established her voice as an artist: an empathetic voice that addresses our existential humanness by presenting the subject as a unique individual removed from everyday details and standing vulnerable within the universe.

Carol Ehlers, Rineke Dijkstra's Beach Portraits in Rineke Dijkstra. Beach Portraits, LaSalle Bank Photography Collection, Chicago 2002

Wall Street, New York, June 29, 1993

While working on the Beach Portraits, Dijkstra made a small group of works in urban areas titled Streets, which included shoots in Odessa, Ukraine, and on New York City's Wall Street. In these images, the horizon of the sea and sand is replaced by the horizon of masonry wall and sidewalk. Dijkstra photographed people she came across: a messenger, a secretary, a child with a doll playing in the street, a girl with a bag on her way to the beach.

With these works, the artist presents her own take on street photography, a genre historically characterized by candid shots of ordinary people moving through the city. Dijkstra opts not to take this classic approach of capturing unguarded moments but rather engages her subjects directly. Stopped and posed still against a neutral ground, who might otherwise have been depicted as anonymous passersby become singular individuals confronting the camera.

Chelsea Spengeman, Plates (catalogue entries) in Rineke Dijkstra: A retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2012

Almerisa, 1994-2003

The body of work that perhaps most clearly demonstrated how Dijkstra fashions a conceptual program to reflect more personal interests is the ongoing, multiyear study of Almerisa, which she began in 1994. The project is an extended portrait of an émigré to the Netherlands whom Dijkstra first met at the age of six in a crowded, impersonal refugee center. Almerisa and her family, who are Muslim, had fled the Bosnian wae, and Almerisa appears in the first picture of the series as a tiny, solemn girl in a new dress and socks that fail to match her outfit, a subtle disarray that underscores her circumstances. In subsequent photographs, taken roughly every two years wherever Almerisa is living at the time. Dijkstra reduces the situation to its most essential elements. We see the timid girl suddenly immersed in a foreign culture gradually grow into an adolescent and then a young woman living in a prosperous Western European country where she feels comfortable and into which she has assimilated. The series recalls the annual marks of a child's growth that a parent makes on the kitchen wall, or the annual ritual of a picture made to send grandparents for the holidays. At the same time, in the individual pictures, we can read the various details: the moments when her feet touch the floor, when she starts to use makeup, and when her posture changes to express a kind of physical possession of her environment.

Sandra S. Phillips, Twenty Years of Looking at People in Rineke Dijkstra: A retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2012

Buzzclub/Mysteryworld, 1996-97

After a visit of one of the city's dance clubs, Dijkstra created a series of still photographs of its patrons in an improvised studio in a back room during normal operating hours. This in turn inspired her first work in video, The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK / Mystery World, Zaandam, NL. The video work, likewise shot in a makeshift studio at night, is exhibited as an asynchronous dual projection. With the DJ's mixes audible in the background, some subjects simply stand in front of the camera while they smoke, drink, or, in one instance, make out; others are visibly intoxicated. In the second half of the of the work, in contrast to the Buzz Club's female-dominated subculture, mostly male teenagers from a Dutch club called Mystery World begin to appear. Prolonged takes of the teens brightly lit against white backgrounds provide ample time to for viewers to consider clothing, movement, and facial expression, all details impossible to examine without such isolation. The pace of the editing slows and the duration of the shots increases as the night wears on.

Chelsea Spengeman, Plates (catalogue entries) in Rineke Dijkstra: A retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2012

Maya (diptych), 1999

„In my work, I look for specific characteristics of individual people within group settings. In Israel, I consciously choose soldiers because the army plays such a prominent role in Israeli society. Moreover, military service implies that one has to submit to a collective identity. There is always a tension, however, between the values of the community. I am interested in the paradox between identity and uniformity, in the power and vulnerability of each individual and each group. It is this paradox that I try to visualize by concentrating on poses, attitudes, gestures and gazes.“

Rineke Dijkstra in Israel Portraits – Rineke Dijkstra, Herzliya Museum of Art, 2001

Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29, 1994

„The New Mothers series (1994) is a good example of how an idea comes about for me. In these works - and in another series I was making at the time, the Bullfighters (1994, 2000)- I wanted to investigate whether it was possible to capture opposite emotions in a single image: pain and exhaustion in contrast with relief and euphoria. It was about photographing people immediately after an intense physical and emotional experience.

Julie was the first. When they called to say the child was on the way, I went over immediately. She was having the delivery at home. I sat there waiting in the living room and could hear everything. The atmosphere was very intimate. But once you start photographing with a flash, all of that intimacy vanishes. In the image, you end up with an extreme sense of realism in the details, which you don't notice until you begin printing. With one of the women, you can still see a bit of blood on her neck. She has a tattoo. The baby's head still has lots of blood on it. In the moment you don't see any of that. There's a rawness about childbirth. And what gets blocked out right away – I mean the tension and the pain – remains in the photograph.“

Realism in the Smallest Details. Rineke Dijkstra interviewed by Jan van Adrichem in Rineke Dijkstra: A retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2012

Vondelpark, Amsterdam, June 10, 2005

„In the later park photographs, I used the landscape more distinctly as a setting to get greater depth in the picture, and I was even more interested in light's influence on landscape. Light changes not only the surroundings, but the atmosphere too, as it did in the beach photographs. The three-part division of sand, sea, and sky in the beach photographs makes a nearly abstract background that isolates the models, whereas the young people in the parks are surrounded by light and the shade of trees.“

Realism in the Smallest Details. Rineke Dijkstra interviewed by Jan van Adrichem in Rineke Dijkstra: A retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2012

Nicky, Liverpool, England, January 19, 2009

While some themes are constant between Buzz Club/Mystery World and Krazyhouse, the years intervening are notably reflected in the latter, both in the individuals represented and the technology used to record them. Nicky looks the most like she could teleport to the Buzz Club and fit right in, both in terms of dress and dance style, but like all of the Krazyhouse crew, she has a wholesome healthiness entirely unknown to the earlier video's smoking, beer-swilling, and apparently drugged-out clubgoers.

Jennifer Blessing, What We Still Feel: Rineke Dijkstra's Video in Rineke Dijkstra: A retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2012

Ruth Drawing Picasso, Tate Liverpool, 2009 (Video Sample)

Several years before making this video, Dijkstra was asked what portrait photography meant to her. She answered, „For me, it's the personal relationship... I am interested in the people I encounter... Precisely because something is frozen in time, you can look at it and see it ina way that often slips past you in the everyday world. For me, the importance of photography is that you can point to something, that you can let other people see things. Unlimately, it is a matter of the specialness of the ordinary.“ Certainly Ruth is ordinary, in the sense that she is not famous, nor is she exhibitiong some precious talent or rare beauty. Dijkstra does, however, lovingly transform her into someone extraordinary, simply by proposing that the viewer spend several minutes regarding a child projected larger than life.

Dijkstra's gola is not to deconstruct media representations of women, but we cannot view her works without noting how much they depart from mass media. She treats her mostly female subjects, like Ruth, with a dignity and respect regardless of age and any apparent socially codified measure of worth. Typically she represents them with their entire bodies, never fetishistically focusing on some parts of their anatomy to the exclusion of others. Her portraits always present her subjects' full faces, straight on, as a means to directly relate to them as people, not objects or collections of endowments.

Jennifer Blessing, What We Still Feel: Rineke Dijkstra's Video in Rineke Dijkstra: A retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2012

Taryn Simon, London, England, June 25, 2011

„It's important how I relate to the person being photographed, and later how the viewer relates to them. There is something happening between those people and me; I can't really describe it, it’s a sort of understanding, a reflection on each other. Sometimes, I feel that this relation becomes less direct with time – for the viewer it might not be so easy to identify with the young people I filmed in clubs almost 20 years ago for instance, because it’s obviously a different time. But what you see on a portrait existed and is still somehow part of the way we are now. There have been people on beaches and partygoers a hundred years ago, and you will still find them in a hundred years from now. There is always a situation, certain feelings, some emotions that are recognizable by everybody. I try to be close and truthful to this.“

Rineke Dijkstra in conversation with Jean-Marie Gallais in Remember Everything: 40 Years of Galerie Max Hetzler, Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin 2014