Verlas-Rineke Dijkstra-2001

Verlas-Rineke Dijkstra-2001 - Fieal People "I...

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Unformatted text preview: Fieal People "I discovered that if you want to give a general impression. you should be very specific.“ Rlneke Dljkstra‘ Few things can throw you off balance like belng photographed in your bath- Ing suit. Not quite naked. you have to worry about how to stand and position your body as well as the various bits of elastic supporting and confining you. The bathing suit photo, even when a casual snapshot. ls both an extremely self-conscious representation and a moment of helpless vulnerability. These conflicting qualitiesmpoiee. concentration; uncertainty, self-consciousness» are the qualities Rineke Dijkstra seeks out. Critics commonly give us a choice between August Sander and Diane Arbus as the major photographic influences behind Dijkstre’s portraits. and the artist hersel‘f often mentions these two figures.‘ The pairing is perplexing es Sender and Arbus pull in different directions. toward. respectively, the gen- eral. sociological statement and the specific. self-reflective Image. Sander. like Dijkstra. originally worked as a commercial portrait photogra- pher. And like Diikstra he struggled with the line between pleasing his (pay- lng) subjects and pleasing himself.1 in his own photography he began using glossy paper normally used for architectural photographs. sharpening the images weil beyond the comfort threshold of his flattering pictorial portraits. These new pictures are gathered in Bender’s famous typology of Germans made during the years 1910-1933. Man in the Twentieth Century. Here sol- diers. peasants. and intellectuals cease to be themselves. acting instead as emblems of their social class or profession. In straining to represent them- i‘KO'Vl '- l’or-tflfiri i’é “Z”. .i we. b’gkei—m. ARN’iBf— Cafli'z \iewiii-S 4200i selves in a particular way—as Intelligent or affluent or hard-workingu-the subiects inevitably lapse into the cultural. the general. the typical. Dijkstra's connection to Sander is clear in her interest in types of people. developed serially and photographed in deadpan detail: teenagers at the beach. new mothers, matedors. disco-goers, “gabbers” (techno music fans). Some of her work also makes or exposes generalizations about nationality. She began the beach series in 1992 in the Netherlands. then moved to photograph in the United States, at Hilton Head. South Carolina {a wealthy resort community). and Coney Island in Brooklyn (a working-class public beach). In both Hilton| Head and Coney island she found a particular- ly American sensibility. that of teenagers who "take their examples from photos in glamour magazines they want to imitate.“ Just as an architect or a bricklayer reveals social norms in Sander’s work. so these young Ameri- cans. iike the long—haired. lean-muscled surfers [Hilton Head. 1992]. reveal culturai commonplaces about beauty and style. in this case taken from the media. From the US Dijkstra moved to beaches in Eastern Europe; she wanted to photograph in Russia. for maximum contrast. but with travel there difficult $he settled for Poland. Ukraine. and Croatia. The images taken there show teenagers in unfashionable.'outdated swimsuits. occasionally in their under-- wear or street clothing. The body types as well seem to vary more widely. including more extremely thin and overweight teens. more knock knees: their poses are less artful and more solemn. Dijkstra's Eastern European teens seem at a great cultural distance from the affluent and fashionable Americans. Even more than Sender‘s typologies. Diane Arbus serves as an obvious point of reference for this work. Hel'lportrait‘s, like Sarioer‘s. often remove Blur:- authorial agency of her subjects‘ self~representations. but to dltferelut affect. one that critics have often called "cruel." This perceived cruelty in Arbus's photographs of the physically and mentally challenged, as well an.- the just plain odd, comes from her camera’s cold, flat look at people who may or may not realize their strangeness. Dijkstra quotes Arbus's famous statement on this perspective, that she worked in "the gap between intern tion and effect.” Arbus elaborates: “Everybody has that thing where they need to look one way out they come Out looking another way and that’s what peOple observe... our whole guise-t is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there's a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can‘t help peeple knowing about you.”" This gap between how we see ourselves and how we iooi: to the world is exaggerated in Arbus’s photographs of transvestites, whose femininity always fails. Other contemporary photographers pick this up: in her most recent work, Cindy Sherman portrays various middle—aged women working hard to be attractive. with flamboyant makeup. hair, and dress, to little or no avail. But no one renders the gap between intention and effect n'i‘ore subtly or poignantly than Dilkstra, who echoes Arbus in her interview with Jessie:- Morgan: “People think that they present themselves one way, but they cam-- not help but show something else as well. it‘s impossible to have everything under control." Particularly in the beach series. Diikstra realized in res-tro- speot that she used this self-consolOusness about pose (what she calls "what am i going to do with my hands, etc”) to reveal something else about her subjects. That something can be the underlying anxiety of a teenage American beauty queen (Hilton Head, 1992), who seems to suck in her stomach and meet our glance with worried eyes. Or the unexpected grace and gravity of a gawky. extremely thin girl with a band-aid on her belly but— ton (Poland, 1993}. Or the myriad clenched hands and shifting feet throughout the beach series. Often what is most revealing In these photographs is the small detail, the "tell" of hands or eyes, the girl who stands firmly oontropposto, the boy who curls in on himself. While Dijkstra has said that the unforrned quality of teenagers appeals to her, she has also repeatedly spoken of the need to be as specific as possible in the images. Within her series. the individuals dif- ferentiate themselves. A certain uniformity of pass and clothing, whether it's the brocade jackets of the Portuguese bullfightors. the uniforms of British schoolboys, or the lack of clothing worn by the new mothers. highlights indi— viduai expression and physiognomy. One likes to Imagine that it highlights individual character and psychology as well. in fact, Dijkstra’s photographs are so specific that the same person can look quite different from image to image. The two photographs of Tia taken five months apart clearly depict the same woman with minimal physical changes that the artist describes as “almost nothing”; still the woman looks alarm- ingly different In the two images. The first photograph was taken three weeks after Tia gave birth; in the second, she looks understandably more rested, and she has changed 'her hairstyle slightly. A shift of external light or internal mood. even a barette—that’s all it takes. Diiksti'a seems to say, to make us a different person. She also risks exposing the photographic deception. its rigid. frozen representation of a living, breathing person. In a grouping of tour photos taken between 1994 and 2000, we see a young Bosnian girl at two-year intervals. In what was for her an unusual composi- tional format, Dijkstra photographs Almerisa in distinct interior settings, as part of a project documenting the children at refugees. In these images the girl not only grows up but assimilates, shifting from Eastern to Western Europe. Almerisa's clothes become more stylish. less "ethnic." and she grows her hair long; even her expression seems to change. to lighten. ' Images made over time reveal what is cdnstant or essential and what is changeable. accidental; Tia and. Almerisa differentiate not just trorn others but from themselves. The effort of trying consciously to "be yourself" lends Itself inevitably to another kind at truth—telling: facts slip from behind the representation. whether that truth is sociological (like that of Sander) or psychological (like that of Arbusl. "With the bothers it was very clear to me that they were more or less a self- portrait. They showed what we don’t want to show anymore but still feel." Rineke Dijkstra’ “in the process of photographing it becomes clear to me what i am looking tor. Usually it's ‘closely related to my own experience. In the disco girls I recognise my own desire for rapture.” Flineke Dijkstra' Of all her work of the past decade, Dijkstra‘s most celebrated images depict teenagers. in both the beach series and the more recent videos Buzz Club/Myateryworld (19964997) and Anal-nick {199?}. Other contemporary photographers have taken on the teenager. particularly some of the women who studied at Yale in the mid~905 with Gregory Crewdson. such as Anna Gaskell. Dana Hoey. Malaria Marder, and Katy Grannan. But the subject of adolescence also cut a much wider swath in the art world of the 19903. the period of Dijkstra’s mature work. Many artists based their work on hooks from teenage popular culture. from Mike Kelley's basement bedroom pen- nants and stuffed animals to Karen Kllimnik's “tashion” sketches to Ellxa- beth Peyton's paintings of tragic rock stars. The general tenor of this pathetic {if not Pathetic) art-«wounded. expressive rather than skillful. socially alienated but fascinated by the products of society—recalls not only the emblems but the feelings of adolescence. These artists appear to be interested in adolescence as a broad. trans-his- torical concepts—Karen Kilimnik doodles Twiggy as well as Kate Moss. Aithough the specifics of fashion change. the figure of the teenager has maintained certain features since its invention shortly after World War ll: rebellion, rejection of authority. refusal of tradition. invention {or at least criticai consumption} of new styles in music, clothing, and speech incom- prehensible to adults. Many of these qualities were once attached to the anti-bourgeois social subset of bohemian artists, which seems to have dls- appeared in the age of the culture industry. Sell-conscious about the death of the avant—garde, we delight in the persistence of adolescence. Having lost the raw feelings, the ability we once had to desire and to rage [our senses either sharpened or dulled by growing up}. we retain It nostalgically, longing for the still—resonating emotions of our adolescence. In an earlier formulationT We WE’VE supposed to reserve our nostalgia for childhood, traditionally a time of either biissful innocence or anarchic free- dom. Nostalgla for childhood is a keystone of the'moderh experience and modernist art. Modernism is at least partly about discovery. seeing with an innocent, uneducated eye. and above all with originality. Childhood experb ences are memorable for being “first”: the first time we see the ocean. taste lump sugar. feel paint. Adolescent experience is above all repetitious: it’s not about our first trip to the mall. but the fact that we go there every week-- end. see the some people, want to do the same thing over and over. Nos- telgia for adolescence is a postmodern phenomenon. If the art of Dijkstra et al. doesn‘t conform to earlier models of chlldllke, expressive art, neither does it share the “adult.” world-weary style of Sher— rie Levine or Barbara Kruger. This Is a generation for whom the paradigm of adolescence (frustration. awkwardness. self-discovery} resonates louder than that of childhood (happiness. wonder. play) or adulthood [sophistica- tion. responsibility. gravity). Adolescence is not only about belief, invest- ment. passion, but about self-consciousness as well, a critical awareness of what other people think. Diane Arbus looked at her "freaks’h—the transves- tites and giants—and sew herself; Dijkstra. like so many artists of her gen- eratlon. sees herself reflected in teenagers. You can see this drama of passion and self-censorship played out In Dijk- stre’e video Anemiek. A young teenager with blond hair and braces sings and mouths along with an Inane. electronically produced pop song. As she croons the masterpiece. “I Wanna Be with You,” for a few seconds at a time she forgets the camera, throws herself into the lyrics, furrows her brow, and really means the w-‘s'rds. which suddenly transcend the banal. becoming a states-noni- of absolute, wrenching desire. Anamiek almost immediately catches hersell. grins with embarrassment. stops. and then starts again. The video is only a few minutes long. and it loops. exaggerating the repeti- tlon of the lyrics, which have little variation. still. the effect is never quite nmnotonous; rather, we are sensitized to the minute variations in her mood. in 'rhe degree. (21‘ self-consciousness. the delicate balance between engaged experience :md unforgiving self-awareness of the act of being represented. The Sign :2.ir.:tI/Fviysteryworld video looks more broadly at the phenomenon m adolescence. juxtaposing two different locations: first a Liverpool disco, than a Butch techno club. The twenty-sixl-rninute video suggests a loose. overarching nail'ative, as if it transpired over the course of a single night. the passage of time indicated by increasing inehriation and decreasing inhi- bition. h”. com-reels not only nationalities but genders and styles: the disco ls primarily a stage for girls, who wear come-hither clothing. bobbing and swaying with the vaguer romantic lyrics. and the techno music mostly for boys, dresser.- in. track sqits. jerking against an aggressive beat. On two screens we see the kids dancing. kissing, smoking. drinking, making faces. and moving their bodies. They look at and away from the camera. all against the White 5.1:. ; kerop familiar to us from the ‘705 work of Richard Avedon [another mush-a influence. and one that perhaps hints at a bridge between Sender anal airbus}. shooting in a. storage closet in the club. allowing us to hear the background music, Dijkstra takes the kids out of context: not far or long enough away to remove them From the mood. iust enough to throw them into relief. She choosas essentially conforrniet, clearly rule-bound subcultures. and then crates the space and time to allow Individual participants to differentiate themselves. The boys tend to be angry and opaque in their aeif—representa- tion: the most expressive, Fred (toward the end of the video). moves little out alternates between averted eyes. the uncomfortable Impossibility of maintaining cool. and a steady. confrontational gaze. The girls, not surpris— ingly, show us more. Dancing in inexpensive, flashy dresses, they display their individual tics of body and expression, repetitive movements you know they keep within the prescribed limits of acceptable dancing. but which nonetheless reveal their signature gestures and rhythms. We see shy girls, awkward girls, bored girls. The video starts with a beauti‘ ful brunette with the cigarette. red lipstick, and self-possession of a 19405 movie star. Dijkstra in fact gave her stage directions. telling the girl to imag- ine that she is standing alone on the edge of the dance floor. longing to dance. and hoping to lure a partner. Another girl toward the end of the Buzz Club section stands affectless and slightly vacant-looking in a ridiculous dress with a cutOUt midrif‘l‘i she begins to dance. and suddenly we realize that she is one of those great dancers. not only instinctively graceful but smart. sharp about her body, riveting to watch. Then she walks off. Whether we are seeing the “real” people emerge over time or they are just playing themselves. or playing somebody else. the temporal element com— plicates these images tremendously, The video portraits resemble Warhol’s “screen tests"“in their subjects' self-conscious regard for the camera. Yet the music and the setting refer specifically to that loss of saith—what Dijkstra calls “rapture” or ecstasy“—that we seek in nightclubs (as well as nature. love. sex. drugs. and art). it Dijkstra recognizes herself in these intense. in~ between adolescents. she aiso recognizes a 'more genera! humanity. "Adolescents tend to be passionate people. and passion is no less real because it is directed toward a commercialized popular singer.... Adole- scents lnsult us by quietly Haunting their authenticity." Edward 2. Friedenberg' “i am looking for a kind of purity. something essential from human beings... i believe in a sort of magic." Rlneke Dijkstra" Dijkstra uses the classical trope of isolated figures against a neutral back- ground, end her photos are always. first. startlingly direct images of partic- ular individuals. But. like the photographs of Sender and Arbus, they also always imply other people. Temporarily removed from the shared space of the summer beech,. the discor the hullfight, the famiiy, the school group. each of her subjects syhecclochically indicates the modern crowd. You know that nearby, just out of camera range. there are hundreds of other people who at least superficially resembie the person on whom the photographer has temporarily focused her (and your) attention. She reminds us that while these groups share things, rules and fashions and conventions, they are still composed of individuals. And, as Dijkstra has said several times, these images imply herself as well: she identities with the subjects, falls in love with them, sees herself in them. Particulariy in the videos. this intensely reciprocal relationship is painfuliy clear. More than representing a Specific group or the artist. however, Dijkstra's images are icons for emotional states and experiences that she hopes res- onate more broadiy, across lines of nationality. age, and gender. She favors adolescents as subjects for their indeterminacy: “Due to the fact that teenagers have not fully developed yet. they seem more abstract and more general."“ Dijkstra has her adult figures pose Immediately after an intense experience, one that opens them up in some way (she is cinrr'entlyr photo- graphing members of the Israeli Army on active duty). in the exhausted new mothers and bloodied metadors, we recognize our own vuinerability and iso- Iation. Despite her interest in capturing “universal” emotions. Dijkstra is not na‘ive. Documentary photography is historically present in her work. but in an extremely sophisticated. knowing form. The photographs and videos are not meant to be transparent; the images clearly register their subiects‘ aware— ness of representation. the split, for example. between how dancing feels (sensual) and how dancing looks (often ridiculous). The beach series and Buzz Club/Mysterywofld video acknowledge and cencentrete our own state of extreme expcmure, and the steps we take to put on a face with which to greet the world. at the same time as they reveal strong feeling. Working in a clearlyr tempered. mediated. even coal Way. Dijkstra aims high and deep: she wants to “get” at hOw it feels to be a human being, how it feels to be real. Katy Siegel oaks";- quoting unma- Arbua: mum-mow with Jessica Morgan .n this valuing“ p. Ta. $00. for example. Thomfll Wouki. "About the warm." m Run-Ok- uwufra mammver: Suraneal Mucau'fi- H3331- Gunther Sandor. "Photographer Extraordinary." In Man without Mnnxs {LDndnnL Thamflfl and Hoaxnfl. 191's): nljkutrn comment! on he? nummllrclkl work In ll" intorvlcw wlth Claire Bishop. "Yhe Naked Immfidlflcy DP Photogranr‘y." Fresh Art {Novembnrrnccemner 1599]. 88. lane Imorwew with Morgan. omno Avbu‘. Diana Amug- An- Aaormro Managrnph {New York: Aperture. 1972:. Intomew wllh Morgen. interview with Nicholas Tron-loll”. Sari Son-wee [Spring 1993). ' Edward 2. Fri-denture. The Vanishing Adelaide-n! EBolton: Beacon Press. “359:. ‘9 Intervlow wlth David Brll'la'm. Bra-rive comm-a nu..3§:l' {AFI'II‘I'HBY 1999} p. 2D-27. Interview with Tremblly. ...
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Verlas-Rineke Dijkstra-2001 - Fieal People "I...

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