Summary

This is a large-format colour photograph of a boy standing on a beach. He stares intensely towards the camera, narrowing his eyes against the bright midday sun. His tousled black hair and the damp sand on his feet suggest that he has recently been in the sea. He holds his arms to his sides, his fingers touching his upper thighs. The boyish narrowness of his chest contrasts awkwardly with his broadening hips, which are clad in close-fitting red swimming trunks. A smattering of acne on his nose and chin confirms the onset of adolescence. The image is formally composed. Dijkstra used flash in combination with natural light and a narrow depth of field, placing only the foreground and subject in focus, with the result that he appears artificially illuminated. Framed full-length in the centre of the picture, he stands out against a backdrop made of bands of colour. Strong horizontals are provided by the edge of the sand, the breakers in the water and the line where sea meets deep blue sky. These are all below the boy’s waist, throwing into relief his slightly bandy legs and adding to the sense of gawky physical vulnerability. Unlike the traditional portrait which is normally titled with the subject’s name, this work’s title states the location and date of the meeting between artist and boy. It is one of a series of twenty Beach Portraits (formerly known as Bathers) which Dijkstra created between 1992 and 1998.

Based in Amsterdam, Dijkstra frequently travels in order to find her subjects. The Beach Portraits were made on beaches in Belgium, Croatia, England, Poland, Ukraine and the United States. They are photographs of children and adolescents, posing singly or in groups of two or three. Mostly they appear in swimwear; occasionally they are more fully dressed. The diversity of places and nationalities reflects a difference in wealth and therefore quality of clothing; the subjects’ poses likewise range between the apparently self-assured and an awkward self-consciousness. The subjects’ intense gaze towards the camera is a constant. For each photograph, Dijkstra selected her beach location carefully, set up her camera and then approached her subjects, inviting them to assume a pose of their choice in front of the lens. In all the portraits, the camera is positioned low in relation to the subject and the landscape, resulting in a downward gaze and large expanse of sky. Dijkstra has commented:

I have a preference for introverted people because I feel an affinity with them and therefore I can look at them longer than I do at exuberant people, who are very much focused on their surroundings. I like a particular kind of face, very classical and therefore timeless ... I demand a concentration that is decisive for the photographs. I demand this concentration of myself but also from them. I have to sustain their attention which means the contact is very close.
(Quoted in Rineke Dijkstra 1997, [p.38].)

Dijkstra has cited August Sander (1876-1964) and Diane Arbus (1923-71) as important influences on her work. Adolescents, on the threshold of a developmental rite of passage, and adults who have recently undergone a highly charged emotional experience are her preferred subjects, as in her portraits of women who had recently given birth, Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29 1994, Tecla, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 16 1994 and Saskia, Harderwijk, Netherlands, March 16 1994 (see Tate P78097-P78099). Dijkstra has explained that these people display a vulnerability which allows the photographer to capture ‘what Arbus said ... “the gap between intention and effect”. People think that they present themselves one way, but they cannot help but show something else as well. It’s impossible to have everything under control.’ (Quoted in Portraits, p.76.)

Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 23 1992, De Panne, Belgium, August 7 1992, (Tate P78328) and Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26 1992 (Tate P78330) are framed chromogenic prints made from 4 x 5 inch negatives. The photographs were produced in an edition of six plus two artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is the second in the edition.

Further reading:
Rineke Dijkstra, exhibition catalogue, Photographer’s Gallery, London 1997, pp.34-5 and 38
Rineke Dijkstra: Portraits, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston 2001, reproduced p.27 in colour
Carol Ehlers, James Rondeau, Rineke Dijkstra: Beach Portraits, Chicago 2002, reproduced [p.51] in colour

Elizabeth Manchester
July 2005