All photographs via the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York & Paris; © Rineke Dijkstra
All photographs via the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York & Paris; © Rineke Dijkstra
Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra, recognized for ruminative photographic portraits, says, ““I try and look for an uninhibited moment, where people forget about trying to control the image of themselves.” She began the Beach Portraits series after breaking her hip. A temporary state of physical semi-paralysis as the catalyst for exploration. Taking self-portraits at a pool after physiotherapy sessions, she says, “I was fascinated by capturing something unconscious and natural. I was interested in photographing people at moments when they had dropped all pretense of a pose.”

Rineke’s injury rendered a hindrance in control, of her own body and its affectations. The transience of the human apparatus moving through, moving in and out of, open and closed spaces. The skin itself enclosing a fragile, complex system of migrating muscles, organs, and bones. Perhaps it was during this time of transition, cultivating a relationship with the limitations of her own mobility, adapting and compensating and mutating as a body, which was the impetus for an intimate interpretation the object detached from its subjectivity.

Susan Sontag wrote in On Photography, “Photographs help people take possession of space in which they are insecure. Thus, photography develops in tandem with one of the most characteristic of modern activities: tourism. “ Dijkstra’s focus on awkward adolescent subjects on seaside holidays who, often less guarded in front of the camera than their adult counterparts, and for the most part, unconcerned with, or perhaps unaware of, projecting a certain image, reflects a personal experience with the limitations of manipulating her own body.
The life-sized photographs are a mirror for the viewer. Vulnerable figures foreground stark, seaside locations. Compelling, intimate, without the pretense of class or culture, flesh and fabric silhouetted in a frame, bare soles grounded by a pedestal of course, grainy sand, enclosed in the shape of the image, a box, a metaphor for borders and subjectivity.
Simultaneously, standing against the infinite horizons of anywhere, the perspective of the viewer is limitless possibility. The subject of the photographs is captured in a solitary moment, placed on public display, caught in the gaze. Objectified. Fragmented. Displaced.
The genre of portraiture is also suggestive of its inverse, landscape art. The subject suspended in the medium, on the cusp of moving out of frame, into the unknown, leaving an iconic image of an endless stretch of water and sky. The body can shift its pose at any moment. The space which it inhabits would remain.
Something to possibly ponder when standing at the break point this summer.
-Ari Bella Gelman

A comprehensive mid-career retrospective of Rineke Dijkstra’s work will be at the Guggenheim in New York through October 18.

July 2012