Rineke Dijkstra

Odessa, Ukraine, 1993

Forte de Casa, Portugal, 2000

Tiergarten Berlin, Germany, 1999

Kora Tiergarten Berlin, Germany, 2000

'It's like what Diane Arbus said, you are looking for the "gap between intention and effect". People think that they present themselves one way, but they cannot help but show something else as well. It's impossible to have everything under control.' This 'gap between intention and effect' 
Whilst looking at portraiture in books the other day I came across a beautiful portrait by Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra so decided to look more closely at her work. Dijkstra's work centers very much on portrait photography which she often creates series of. Her most well known series of work is Beach Portraits (1992-94) and The Buzz Club (1995). 

Rineke Dijkstra approaches portraiture as social documentary photography. Using her large scale colour portraits which focus very much on posture, gesture and clothing which allow us to see differences in the cultural identities of the people across different locations she photographs. Her work also shows a fascination Dijkstra has with people in the midst of significant personal transitions as many of her images are of adolescents, she has a series of portraits of new mothers and also one  showing male and female Israeli soldiers. 

The Buzz Club Liverpool
I grew particularly interested in Dijkstra's approach especially when looking at The Buzz Club series which she took in a club in Liverpool with a makeshift studio. The portraits were taken of adolescents against a white background, revealing to us how hold they hold themselves as Dijkstra often captures people preparing to be photographed before they have started to pose. I think this simplistic way of photographing these adolescents is really potent in the way it represents those in this youth culture without mocking them. There is something that feels affectionate towards them in the way they have been photographed. As these people are normally thought of as being in large groups and here they are isolated against this negative space as Dijkstra wants to represent them as individuals. 

I think it is really interesting the effect of framing the subjects in this way consistently for this series. As it allows us to notice similarities between these people of the same youth culture such as their clothing. Which in particular on the women becomes a kind of uniform as you notice the similar black and white, skimpy clothes they are wearing. The focus on individual self presentation in the images is really interesting to me, especially when you put them together as there is something particularly emotive about viewing these people in this vulnerable way. In knowing that they are usually contained in a group. This awareness Dijkstra shows in her photographs of individual uniqueness which she captures beautifully, shows how people like Diane Arbus have influenced her work. Who was patient in waiting to capture a moment where their subject was unposed and off guard. This awareness of her subject to get shots like this I find really inspiring and I hope in my own photographs to capture subjects more off guard to capture more of a sense of who they are when they don't think anyone is paying attention to them.

Isabel, Berlin, 1998
The above portrait I came across online that is one of my favourites of Dijkstra's. I have tried to find out if this is part of a series of hers but I couldn't find any information on it which is a shame. I did however want to talk about this picture because I do think it is a particularly special portrait. She has managed to capture in this image the kind of moment that I previously described in Nadars portraits which were 8 minute exposures. He managed to show these extended periods of thought in his subjects which Dijkstra has managed to similarly show in this much shorter exposed image.

What I do think is really powerful in this image is that this is clearly a young girl but there is a real sense of maturity we get through this deep expression she has. Her eyes are wide open but it is as though she isn't actually looking at anything and is instead deep within her own head. Visually this is also a really soft image with Isabel's hair fading into the white background showing again this sense of affection that Dijkstra seems to have in capturing her subjects. I think that the soft focus on the background is really effective in letting Isabel's world fill the scene she is sat in, as she appears so introspective in the same way we are looking straight at her and her character.

Looking at Dijkstra's work has really allowed me to think about representing people in even more ways. Such as by focusing on identities and self presentation and how this may change over time. The way her images demand our attention and reward us the longer we look at them is so powerful and something I would love to get an eye for in taking my own portrait photographs. She has also given me a lot to think about in terms of having awareness as a photographer, in being able to step back and let your subject reveal more of themselves to you without having to force it and seek it directly yourself. I think its made me realise that portraiture is not just something that has to be staged to be successful and it transcends to many other genres of photography, in being all about observation and finding the decisive moment. 

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