Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective Photographs by Rineke Dijkstra. Text by Jennifer Blessing, Sandra S. Phillips. Interview by Jan van Adrichem. Published by Guggenheim Museum, 2012.
Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective is a broad and orderly collection that underscores the artist's repetitive use of the conventions of formal portraiture across her series of photographs and video installations. And in the end, it shows this approach to be surprisingly expansive; paging through the ample reproductions, I was struck by the nuance and understated power to be found in such a uniform survey of series and forms. Like the "spot the difference" games that ask the viewer to find what distinguishes two nearly identical photographs, common formal tropes and categorical markers invite comparison and then recede in deference to the quirks of gesture and expression. The beach is a shallow backdrop to both the awkward limbs and confident poses of teens on the cusp of their own sea change, while torn and bloody costumes set up the elation and let down of young bullfighters just out harm's way. All that changes and remains emerges from the same refugee, the same soldier, photographed time and again, year after year.
Dijkstra's portraiture employs a vigorous formality in pursuit of the candid. Her working method and style refute the spontaneous sense of this word – there are no casual takes or quick shots here. She instead goes after those moments and miens that are unguarded, straightforward and unselfconsciously revealed. In order to avoid the practiced smiles and social masks her subjects are apt to bring to the fore, Dijkstra photographs them when they are tired or distracted. She arranges encounters just after some significant exertion or momentous occasion – with brand new mothers and brand new soldiers less in control of the pose. Dijkstra wins their consent and then makes them wait; suspending her subjects in a sometimes uneasy state of anticipation, unsure of what to do or when to do it, as she sets up her equipment and decides when to act. There is no certainty of a decisive moment for them, no camera to her face and one, two, three – smile! Each subject is caught in something of a pregnant pause, as is the viewer.
We're all waiting and watching for the tell, the break in the façade, the revelation of significance in the face of the ordinary. We're looking at them, looking at us, looking at them. In the videos too, the expectant power lies in part within sheer duration within certain narrow strictures. Alone with a song, isolated from the crowd, a dancer shifts from bravado to reserve and then back again, staring us down and then closing her eyes. An ordinary school girl, layered in uniform grays, becomes a monument before our eyes in quiet movement and rhythmic pencil scratches as she copies a masterpiece just out of view. The treatment of video works is especially strong in this volume. The selection of still frames is evocative of the whole and well integrated in the catalog, cleverly delineated by a slight shift in the weight of the paper stock of these reproductions. It is worth looking back at Dijkstra's work in this way – there's an insightful collective punch to be found in all this book's ordered sections and selections, expectant faces and desire to connect.
Karen Jenkins earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.