As I was walking through the galleries of The Stedelijk Museum and looking at the photographs of Rineke Dijkstra, I heard a man say: “Oh so beautiful”. I don’t want to disagree with ol’ gramps, but I do not believe that Dijkstra’s work concerns beauty as such. But how should one approach her photographs? As an aesthetic experience? A commentary? A puzzle? Or an illustration of voyeurism?
The Stedelijk Museum put effort into clarifying her works although I think that after reading the first sentence of the introductory text at the beginning of the exhibition many visitors call it quits. “When we look at Rineke Dijkstra’s portraits we are prompted to look back at ourselves, our own lives and how we came to be.” What do they even mean? You have to read further to the last paragraph in which they explain that “Through her subject’s own self-representation Dijkstra reveals marks of her subjects’ social inscription. Thus it is precisely through Dijkstra’s artistic control that her subjects are free to drop their guard and forget about themselves.”
Perhaps they try to explain that the subjects in her portraits look back at us – stare at us directly – and therefore make us aware about ourselves? I am not sure. I am sure about the way it makes me feel: very very uncomfortable interspersed with wonder. Wonder why it makes me feel this way. In most cases – or perhaps all cases – the subject is looking the visitor directly into their eyes. An actual fragile feeling of interrelation seems to emerge. Only you probably do not know the one who is photographed and probably never will.
I wonder why it makes me feel this way. One reason is that in most cases – or perhaps all cases – the subject is looking the visitor directly into their eyes. An actual fragile feeling of interrelation seems to emerge. Only you probably do not know the one who is photographed and probably never will. Another reason is that she intentionally photographs young adults in the oh so awkward period of puberty. Add up that she is able to carefully and skilfully choose the right moment to capture it. What I would call her strength is her ability to reveal. Her striking pictures reveal a phase of life we have experienced or will experience. They reveal structures in society. They reveal the quest for an identity for people. But at the same time, I have to spill the beans. When I get over the awkwardness, I do find the pictures pretty as well.
Rineke Dijkstra: An Ode will be on view at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam until 6 Aug 2017.