The Dutch photographer is noted for her portraits in which uncertain pose is contrasted with reserved or grave facial expressions, obvious role or costume with individual candour or unease. Dijkstra’s work initially favoured severe frontal compositions, central, often symmetrical placement of subjects and discreet, recreational locations. Her large format camera gives the work a compelling focus or resolution that is hardly preserved in JPEGs, yet adds to the strict formality of occasion, the sense of stillness or rigidity, a restraint to figures. The work also reflects photography’s concern with documentary norms, with sharply distinguishing form and content; at a time when digital options would appear to announce their immanent dissolution, when greater fiction is often preferred (see also Posts 12, 60 and 90).
Dijkstra’s work emerged in the mid 90s, with a series of children on summer beaches (1992-6). The works provide a wide frame for a full-length figure, usually in swimming costume, standing with their back to an empty seaside. The figures are occasionally (and engagingly) grouped, but tend to stand alone, empty-handed, directly facing the camera, their slender limbs and physique accentuated by pose and costume. Early examples perhaps use additional, filling light, separating the figure from setting, highlighting the artifice and isolation. The emphasis on the body, the awkward poses thus assume prominence so that the portraits are of immaturity, a gangly patience, a palpably physical impetus to personality.
In this sense, they document typical and social specimens and appeal to photography’s role in realism. This is largely in the service of science rather than art, of course, but in more unusual and imaginative categories, such as those of August Sander or Bernd and Hilla Becher, the documentary approach can prove surprisingly inventive (see also Post 41). The work of Thomas Ruff or Bernhard Fuchs for example, takes up a similar formal austerity inspired by just these sources.
But Dijkstra’s careful formalities are a little conspicuous for just social record. The willowy, unformed figures also flag how bodily personality is conveyed, how directly potential is reflected there. The artist’s preference for youth is largely a category of this. Significantly, a concurrent series poses nude mothers with newborn babies, presumably in a hospital setting, again at full-length, to measure their rounded torsos against small red infants. Mother and baby are seen as a nakedly bodily relation. And again, the distance of framing also suggests a remove for the photographer, a safe distance from issues.
Later works relax the distance, slightly compromise on the extent of the body. In a series at dance clubs (1995-6), the artist singles out young women, their distinctive fashions and demeanour, clearly influenced by the festivities. Here she uses videotapes as well as stills to record their wary reactions to her, but again compositions remain strict. Now individuals are not so much at the mercy of an immature body as conform to circumstances, are subdued or distracted by stimulants, comply in uniformity of dress and fashion. Following works such as a series of Portuguese matadors (2000) similarly record individual immersed in role; their dishevelled appearance immediately after bull fights, at odds with their deadpan, somewhat comic composure. A similar contrast operates in portraits of military figures (2002), but is less effective for the familiarity of role. The works verge on recruiting promotion.
In other works Dijkstra relaxes the strict frontality slightly, as in the series of ‘Almerisas’ (1996-2005), with its angled chair a subtle prop by which to gauge body size, comfort and composure. But the appeal to documentary rigour also carries constraints on category or subject. The isolated or unitary specimen excludes many vital aspects to roles and person, sooner or later relies on greater pictorial resources and involvement. But with this, the photographer then surrenders reassuring norms, some of the touchstones for objectivity and detachment.
For Dijkstra, her increasing subtlety to portraits must risk too much subtlety or triviality. In works such as Vondelpark, Amsterdam (2005) the artist returns to full-length figures and groups, but with new relaxation to pose and composition, a new confidence to the encounter. The work retains the theme of recreation or leisure, offers an almost idyllic setting and attractive subjects yet the meeting is markedly less ardent. Subjects regard the camera evenly, tolerantly, while the photographer is content to include the detritus, to let body and purpose sprawl. The picture no longer holds persons as firmly, but elicits a response to her need to greet and share, to fill a frame with poise.
Tuesday, 29 July 2008
Posted by CAP at 21:41