Summary

This is a large-format colour photograph of a girl standing on a beach. She holds her body in a curved pose that recalls the depiction of Venus emerging from the sea in the famous renaissance painting, The Birth of Venus (1485-6, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) by Sandro Botticelli (1446-1510). The girl in Dijkstra’s photograph tilts her head to one side, appearing to look directly at the viewer. She wears an old-fashioned lime green swimsuit which is damp up to her lower stomach. Framed full-length in the centre of the picture, she stands at the place where dry sand meets damp sand. Just behind her feet is an area of shallow water left by a recent wave. Dijkstra used a flash in combination with natural light and a narrow depth of field, placing only the foreground and subject in focus, with the result that she appears artificially illuminated. This is accentuated by the darkness of the background relative to the girl’s pale body. Behind her, the seascape is composed of bands of greyish turquoise, interrupted by dark lines where breakers rise and white lines where they fall in the sea. 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 girl. 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 – the girl in the green swim suit in Kolobrzeg, for example. It’s about a particular kind of beauty that other people might find ugly, but it’s a kind of ugliness that I find beautiful.
(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 26 1992, De Panne, Belgium, August 7 1992, (Tate P78328) and Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 23 1992 (Tate P78329) 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 of which Tate’s copy is one.

Further reading:
Rineke Dijkstra, exhibition catalogue, Photographer’s Gallery, London 1997, pp.34-5 and 38, reproduced [p.8] in colour
Rineke Dijkstra: Portraits, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston 2001, reproduced p.41 in colour
Carol Ehlers, James Rondeau, Rineke Dijkstra: Beach Portraits, Chicago 2002, reproduced [p.19] in colour

Elizabeth Manchester
July 2005