Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rineka Dijkstra's Mid-Career Retrospective at the Guggenheim

I have seen and liked Rineke Dijkstra's beach portaits of adolescents around the world, and so went to see her mid-career retrospective at the Guggenheim last Wednesday. The beach portraits (1992 - 2002) were as mesmerizing as ever, as were the group portraits of teenagers in parks in Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona. In the hands of a lesser photographer, the portraits could have been mistaken for advertisements for United Colors of Benetton, but the teenagers were seen so sympathetically and individually that there was no mistaking the artistic eye. The young people were wearing branded clothes, but they were shown to be so much more than their brands.

The Amerisa series, begun in 1994 and on-going, followed a young Bosnian girl who sought Dutch asylum through her gradual integration into mainstream Dutch culture. The last photograph shown was of Amerisa carrying her baby. I was also fascinated by Dijkstra's Olivier series (2000 - 03). It traced the physical and psychological changes in a young man who enlisted in the French Foreign Legion.

The photographs, in the last room, of Israeli soldiers taken immediately after military exercises I found much less satisfying. The men posed too self-consciously with their machine-guns. The jungle and hills in the background distracted from the focus on the subjects. The landscape lacked the the formal symmetries and symbolic meanings of the edge of the sea in the beach portraits.

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