Rineke Dijkstra is a portraitist. And yet, it could be said that the Dutch photographer is a curator of awkward moments in time, having the ability to approach the strange myth that hovers above adolescence with grace. The illusion of eternal youth begins to fail, as we see in her photos, once we begin sprouting awkward hairs and getting oil-clogged skin -- and then we live in a seemingly eternal awkward present.
Dijkstra's photos are very much dependent on a fleeting moment, whether that of a child on the brink of adulthood or a mother who has just given birth. There is a mythical classicism to the images, connecting them as much to Botticelli's idealizing brushstroke as to Gursky's hungry lens.
The photographer proceeds cautiously, with a genuine curiosity, a longing for intimacy and a respectful distance from her subjects. Some of them look back at you with angst that has sent many a teen to their rooms. Others reveal fear, loneliness, and sometimes a surprising and indefinable sort of spectral transcendence. Frieze magazine wrote of Dijkstra's adolescents' complex psychologies: "Self-conscious is an implicitly contradictory description. It can mean to be positively self aware and also the opposite, to be painfully unsure of oneself."
In the age of image overload when profile pictures flow bountifully through the ether, the power of Dijkstra's portraits is astounding. How can simple pictures of people be so hypnotizing, so cryptic, so haunting? So often contemporary snapshots float freely as image, independent of the people captured inside them. Yet Dijkstra's images are never far from the great emotions and mysteries of humanity, which fast photography tempts us to ignore for instant gratification. The portraits respectfully reveal and conceal their subjects, portraying interior shadows without probing to expose the human mysteries that prefer not to surface.
Dijkstra's iconic oeuvre includes the collection "Almerisa," in which Dijkstra photographed a Bosnian refugee from when she was six years old to when she became a mother. It also includes the photographer's signature adolescent portraits of teens at the beach and park.
Her retrospective will show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art until May 28.
Check out the slideshow below and let us know what you think about Dijkstra's work in the comments section. We're also curious: what were the most painfully awkward years for you, readers?