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Rineke Dykstraon VONDELPARK
On a sunny and unseasonably hot Sunday
how to take a photo afternoon, Vondelpark - Amsterdam's
principal green space - is teeming. Tourists
JasonOddy vie with locals, and pedestrians with cyclists,
for the last bit of October sunshine. 'For
fuck's sake! What are you doing?' an English
teenager screams as her inability to master
Dutch brakes causes her to crash into
another bicycle. 'Can't you fucking see I'm
out of control?'
I cycle swiftly past, towards the cafd
where I'm meeting the woman who is
arguably Holland's best-known living artist,
Rineke Dijkstra. When I arrive it seems that
half the park is there too. After a few minutes
of scanning faces, I see her pedalling coolly
through the throng. 'Shall we go somewhere
else?' she says. 'Somewhere a bit less crazy.'
We leave the park, pausing at another
caf6 en route to her studio. By the time we
reach the functional, airy atelier on the upper
floor of a former hospital, it is already filled
with autumnal evening light.

I had wanted to take her picture at the end
of the interview, but we decide to proceed
straight away before the day disappears
altogether. My camera, a big, black, heavy
metal affair with a plate-glass viewfinder, just
happens to be the exact same type with which
she makes her sumptuous portraits. And when
we find out that we use identical film as well,
I start wondering what the consequences of
these coincidences might be.
A bit of me is tempted to try and do a
Dijkstra on Dijkstra, to find an unobtrusive
background and concentrate totally on her as
subject. But, apart from a non-descript patch
of bare wall, her workspace doesn't really lend
itself to this approach. With the light fading, I
opt for the traditional 'artist in studio' picture.
I'm just about to take the first shot when she
asks, surprised, 'Don't you use a loupe?' 'No', I
shrug, never having done so before. 'Won't the
pictures be out of focus?' she continues.

Think of a work by Rineke Dijkstra and you
will probably think of a teenager standing,
back to the sea, on a beach. The power of her
celebrated beach pictures derives from the
juxtaposition of their classical composition
and the raw, sometimes gawky appearance
of their subjects. Wearing no more than their
swimsuits, the young bathers stand alone
before the camera, vulnerable and open
to our slow scrutiny. Nothing in the scene
distracts us from taking in every least detail
of these figures - a tensely clenched fist, an
uncertain look, a chin that juts out with just a
little too much self-assurance.
If these adolescents are supported by
the ground and their heads are framed by
the sky, then water is the middle element.
Forever in motion, it corresponds to the
welling, still changing part of Dijkstra's
subjects as they pass from the boundless
space of childhood to the more solid param-
eters of adult life.
In other series she has turned her
camera on Israeli teenagers before and after
they begin their military service, on young,
blooded Portuguese toreros, on teenagers
in nightclubs in Liverpool and Holland, and
on pubescent fairytale children in Berlin's
Tiergarten. This fascination with youth is a
driving force behind her work. 'With young
people everything is much more on the
surface - all the emotions,' she explains.
'When you get older you know how to hide
things, but when you're young it's all very
visible and also very new. Somehow every
experience is a new experience and this has
Above 'I tried without a loupe once and none of them And somehow this is much more interest- a very positive energy.'
1993 were sharp. Let me see if I can find mine.' She ing than when people strike a pose. I began Even when her sitters try to put on a
can't and I have to continue loupeless, and wondering how a portrait would look if you front, Dijkstra often manages to pinpoint
even though I know she is just being helpful, weren't thinking about it, and whether in this something within. Olivier Silva, a new recruit
I feel a little chastened for deviating from the sort of unconscious state you get a sense of to the French Foreign Legion whom she
Facingpage Dijkstra standard.
Olivier,June 18, 2001 something more real. So I started by making photographed seven times between 2000
MUSEUM,AMSTERDAM.COURTESY a self-portrait that I got my assistant to take and 2003, gives little away. But look closely
THE UNATTENDED MOMENT at the swimming pool. After 30 laps I walked and from picture to picture you see the light
'When I left art school I started working to the shower and stood there. I made the fade imperceptibly from his eyes, the hope
Vondelpark,Amsterdam, on commission. I was photographing the picture just at that moment when you are too
The Netherlands,June
disappear gradually from his lips.
10,2005 boards of directors of big Dutch companies, tired to pose.'
and I found it really difficult to get behind RECOGNITION
think ofaworkby
the mask. I had to make these portraits at 'I always liked to watch people, I was kind of
nine in the morning and I'd only have five an observer. I used to be pretty shy,' confides
minutes. I never found a way of making them
more natural. It was only when I'd change
Rineke Dijkstra and Dijkstra. Her quiet reticence persists, and
makes me think of an observation the
my films that they'd relax. And I thought I'd
like to photograph them like that. Much later,
you will probably writer Joan Didion made about how her

when I was working on my own projects, my think of a teenager own awkward shyness often led people she
met to divulge extraordinary things about
own subjects, I discovered that there are
these unattended moments when people
standing, back to themselves, just to fill in the silence.
At her keenest, Dijkstra succeeds in
are not really aware that they are posing. the sea, on a beach opening up her subjects. An avowed admirer


Germany,July 1,2000

Rineke Dijkstra inher
studio, Amsterdam, 2005

The Netherlands,
June 19, 1991

of Diane Arbus, she instinctively finds

herself drawn to people who, perhaps like
'with young people
her, 'are a bit different from the mass, who
stand on the outside a little'. If there is an
everything is much
initial empathic identification, then once more on the surface
she has her already receptive candidates
in place, it is simply a question of waiting. - all the emotions;
'When I make portraits of these people, I
look at them, I observe them. But it's really
when you get older
a question of choosing the right moment. It you knowhowto
has to do with a kind of recognition which
doesn't really happen very consciously. It hide things'
happens between them and me and it lasts
just a fraction of a second.' picture, a comely adolescent couple sit in
the shade of a tree, he retiringly behind her,
VONDELPARK II she staring directly out, the intensity of her
For her latest and still ongoing body of work, gaze commanding you to return it.
now on view as part of her first solo show In this serene and contemplative depic-
at Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum, Dijkstra tion of youthful ardour Dijkstra manages
spent the summer in Vondelpark. If, after to distill all their subterranean fervour.
years of travelling the world in search of her 'I think in a good picture there is a kind of
subjects, this series represents a kind of rest and harmony,' she says. 'As though they
homecoming, it also marks a change in her have been sitting there forever.' And as she
visual language. speaks I understand that it is precisely her
Rather than employ the stripped-down infectious calm that at times enables the
backgrounds of her earlier work, she here young people she photographs to step out
positions her subjects in almost Edenic of the maelstrom of their everyday lives
surroundings, with sunlight dappling a lake and enter into eternity. *
behind some trees. It is a move that both
looks back to the tradition of landscape Rineke Dijkstra is on view at the Stedelijk
Museum, Amsterdam until 6 February.
painting and which provides context and An accompanying catalogue is published
support for the sitters. In the strongest by Schirmer/Mosel


TITLE: Silent Witness

SOURCE: Modern Painters F 2006
PAGE(S): 87-91
WN: 0603201632031

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