A painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders. Oxford Dictionary
When we observe a portrait of any kind, we interact with an entity, enclosed in the medium in which the portrait is presented.
Digitally our mind runs fast to collect as much information as possible. Our eyes run freely on it, curious and eager to know more.
The nature of a portrait is ambiguous and enigmatic, it is open to multiple levels of interaction, from aesthetic to cultural, ideological, sociological and psychological. In the world of paintings, in the past, the portrait was considered a staged and privileged form of representation of the essential traits of a person; through it we can see the individual in his best vestiges in front of a painter who tries to capture the right expression and the right light, to show the inner nature of the subject.
At the beginning of photography, the portrait was still seen in painting language as a symbol of the identity of a person. The photo studios, for all the second half of the 19th century, were equipped with a stage, instruments to keep the right posture of the head in front of the daguerreotypes in the so-called “operating rooms”.
Recalling the words of J. Tagg:
“The portrait is […] the sign with the purpose of describing an individual and designating a social identity”. J. Tagg, The Burden of Representation cit., p. 37
Said that, nowadays the portrait is still used to describe a person, an animal, an object, etc… in a specific context in a specific time. It is a still life on the secret world of the subject and the observer is attracted by the mystery of its meaning.
Rineke Dijkstra has genuinely understood the power of a photographic portrait and she uses it to recount the story of a solitary inner journey, in search of a meaning or a purpose.
In her photographic series we can see a personal research on particular communities of people. Through her lens we see the struggle and uncertainty of adolescence, the relief of a birth or the growth of a person. Her photographs are an anthropologic research on various aspects of the human life, in which everybody is involved, and observing her works, it is really easy for the viewer to empathize with the subject and virtually share the moment.
Rineke Dijkstra was born in Sittard, the Netherlands, in 1959. She studied photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam from 1981 to 1986. She started her career by photographing people in clubs in the late ‘80s and working for corporations as a portraitist. The twist arrived in the 1990, when she injured her hip in a car accident. A self-portrait produced during her rehabilitation, in which she is seen having just emerged from a pool, exhausted, sparked a new direction in her work. (Source: Guggenheim Collection).
A Dutch Magazine commissioned her a series about the notion of summertime and she chose to take photos of adolescent bathers.
“With young people everything is much more on the surface—all the emotions […]. When you get older you know how to hide things.” Cit. Rineke Dijkstra
The result is her early work, Beach Portraits (1992–1994) which featured her young subjects in different locations in the United States and Europe.
Her modus operandi is simple and repeated: a frontal view, a subject most of the times on foot, a sober and minimalist decoration and background, a control of ambient light completed by the flash and at the end the systematic adoption of a principle of posing where the subject confronts himself in front of the camera.
We see the same research on the transitional moments of life in all her works: she photographed people regularly from the young age to adulthood; mothers who just gave birth with their new-born child in their arms; French legionaries or young soldiers for Israel, photographed before and after the uniform.
The trait d’union is a will of understanding the change and the effects of time, through a medium that wants by definition to stop the time in a physical or digital way.
The series Almerisa, for example, is a series of 11 images taken between 1994 and 2008 following a young Bosnian refugee named Almerisa into adolescence and beyond, to motherhood.
“There is in my work a documentary aspect which consists in the description of individual situations as examples révélateurs of a general context.
There is also a psychological aspect which interests the attitude of a particular individual in a given situation. I try to find a balance between the elements that reflex a general context and the elements that reveal the individual sphere.
I believe that photography allows perfectly to treat this double point of view. I take as an example the situations such as the military service, the school, the beach, the club, that are experiences that everybody does in life. […] I elaborate these situations as documentary moments. […] I am interested in authenticity and singularity of the subject I photograph, how the individual differentiates from the others. The small details, an act, a look, always make the difference and they feed my research for truth”
(Extract from an interview with Jean-Pierre Krief made in 2003 for the series Contacts)
– Rineke Dijkstra, Beach Portraits, LaSalle Bank, N.A, Chicago, 2002
– Rineke Dijkstra: Portraits, Limited Edition, Schirmer/Mosel and D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc, München and New York, 2004
– Guggenheim Collection
– Marian Goodman Gallery
– Galerie Max Hetzler
Rineke Dijkstra – Portrait. © Photo : Photostudio Koos Breukel
From: Musée Magazine