The way they look

Rineke Dijkstra

Rineke Dijkstra – a portrait photographer. Her work didn’t catch my eye in the beginning. I mean – when you first look at her work, they are just portraits of people – at the beach, after birth etc. Unlike Sally Mann nor Cindy Sherman, the aesthetics or the emotions on these people she photographed are, you can say, just ordinary.

And here’s the controversy. That’s the challenge she wanted to make with portraitures. She asked, why are we and when do we idealised photography as glamorous? Why do we have to exaggerate in photographs like those celebrities or the famous? Why do we stage such dramatic scenes and that’s the way to be photographed?

What she wanted to photograph was the opposite – the ordinary, the daily lives of people. And with her 4×5 camera, she wanted to capture the split second of truth – that collaboration with the subject of which is natural and authentic, yet posing or holding it for 2 minutes while she captures it in her frames. She wanted her work to feel like a snapshot. She stripped away all the unnecessary background that add context, and just wanted the reader to look closely and spend more time to read and understand the character, by little things like their posture, their skin colour, the frowns etc. Her work, is about being empathetic to the people she photographed, creating that space where she allows different circumstances to happen and with the right moment, she clicks.

A video of her talk:

I have to say, I’m learning to read more ordinary photographs. The micro-details in those photographs and what they bring to the whole piece. To appreciate them. And to acknowledge them. To break free from what I’ve learned from the society before, or actually more like what they have implanted in me and re-learn what I believe is important.


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