Rineke Dijkstra: Decades of the Dutch Photographer’s Striking Portraits
by Elizabeth Inglese
This week the Guggenheim Museum unveiled its mid-career retrospective of the work of Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra. Being a longtime fan of Dijkstra’s photography, I immediately made my way to the museum to check out the exhibition, which commands four floors and showcases photographs from the past 20 years as well as installations of video work.
Dijkstra’s work is at once arresting and inviting. The large-scale color prints from Beach Portraits, which were photographed over a decade from 1992-2002, feature adolescents positioned squarely in front of the camera on an empty stretch of sand, the horizon line behind them. The soft focus of the scenery trains the viewers’ attention on the details of the subject, young beach-goers in their swimwear. Their vulnerability and bravery as they pose engage the viewer in an intimate relationship.
The inspiration for Beach Portraits came during a lengthy rehabilitation Dijkstra underwent following a broken hip. Still wet from the pool in which she exercised, Dijkstra photographed herself and found her exhaustion had enabled her capture a rawness difficult to access.
She sought to recreate this candidness by photographing subjects in states of exertion: bullfighters with blood spattered across their faces and mothers following the birth of their babies. These states, in which the barrier of self-presentation dissolves, allow Dijkstra and the viewer glimpses of authenticity.
Dijkstra’s video installations utilize movement and dialogue to explore her interest in the empathetic relationship between viewer and subject. In one collection, young club-goers dance alone against a white backdrop, their timidity and their confidence both on display. In another, school children discuss their reactions to an abstract Picasso, revealing much of their own preoccupations and concerns.
While physically and emotionally exposed, Dijkstra’s subjects confront their viewers with directness. Their frankness invites us to gaze upon them, but in their bare humanity we see reflections of ourselves.
Rineke Dijkstra: A Retropective is on display at the Guggenheim Museum until October 8, 2012.