Photographer of the Day: Rineke Dijkstra

Rineke Dijkstra

b. 1959

When learning about contemporary photography, Rineke Dijkstra is one of the first photographers mentioned, at least in my experience. As the Photographer of the Day, I’m going to try and tell you just why that is.

First of all, Dijkstra is the bees knees. She lives and works in Amsterdam, and started her career as a commercial photographer. She began her foray into the portraiture she is known for when she had an assignment to photographs that pointed to summertime. Beach balls, piña coladas, bonfires– but actually no. She photographed adolescent bathers. It might sound weird now, but she had permission and it was the early 90s. Twenty years ago people were a lot less paranoid than they are now, and because of that Dijkstra made a body of work called Beach Portraits, which, when displayed, were printed life size. Talk about impact.

Can you imagine going up to people on the beach and being like, “yo, I’m a photographer and I wanna photograph you in your swimsuit.” I’m sure these bathers didn’t come to the beach anticipating a photo shoot. I mean, look at their body language– obviously unprepared. Understandably.

The thing about this body of work that I can’t help but notice is the technicalities of it, which are actually pretty simple. Dijkstra’s subjects look separated from the background because of a head-on flash. Folks, this is a prime example to how flash can actually help your work. I think this technique makes the backgrounds look like backdrops. Pretty neat-o.

Beach Portraits is just one example of Dijkstra’s works, which are almost always portraits and are almost always portraying people in a vulnerable way. She had a commission from the Anne Frank Foundation, where she took photos of adolescent school girls to make the point that any girl could be like Anne Frank in adverse circumstances. Her work is not just for show, as the connection between people– their awkwardness, their vulnerabilities, their humanity.

Also, anyone notice how the girl in the orange bathing suit is kind of like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus? Well, you’re not the only one.

The next PotD will be Harold E. Edgerton, so keep an eye out for that and for some new work coming from yours truly. So no, I have not exchanged photography for rants about photographers. Sorry to disappoint.

Happy Shooting!

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