This portrait photographer shoots well-off, good-looking young people. Her subjects tend to pose for the camera, natural and relaxed expressions on their unlined faces. Most of the photographs at Rineka Dijkstra’s current London show keep to this formula: there’s a series of sibling portraits, brothers and sisters pictured at home. These homes are generally well-appointed, even fancy.
But the photo below shakes up the formula a bit, and stands out. It was taken in Sefton Park in Liverpool, part of Dijkstra’s Park Portraits series, which includes works from between 2003 and 2006. It was the subject of a show at Marian Goodman the following year.
The photograph was taken in June 2006: summer term. In contrast to the placid demeanours that stare out at us from other photos in the show, there’s tension in the air here. The teenage boy and girl’s school uniforms look a bit sweaty, clinging to and bagging from their hunched frames.
The boy manspreads aggressively, his big white hairy feet turned out, freed from the hot confines of school socks and smart shoes. But his blazer pinches his shoulders, signs of an ongoing growth spurt. He's barely contained. Meanwhile, the girl shrinks away from us, making herself small; her knees and feet pointing inwards and enclosing her hands. Both have furtive expressions, as if taken by surprise. They don’t entirely welcome Dijkstra’s attention.
It seems like an action photograph, taken on the fly. Though this can’t possibly be true, considering the beautiful lighting and framing, and what we know about the artist’s working methods: she uses two tripods, one for the flash and one for the camera, which takes quite a bit of setting up. So this pair have been sat there for a little while at least, with the photographer clicking away.
The shadows from the trees in Sefton Park are quite lengthly, it must be after school hours. Something about the uniform, the bare feet, the palpable ennui takes me back to my own school days, 20 years and more ago; how being a teenager sometimes felt like an eternal late afternoon in early summer, waiting for the weather to break, or at least for the opportunity to wear something more comfortable. My feet twist in recognition.
In Dijkstra’s photos, according to the show notes “time is embodied to reveal transitory moments or passages of change; how exchange between sitter, photographer and spectator is both contingent and resonant; and photography’s revelation and reflection of the self”. Well, exactly!
Rineke Dijkstra is at Marian Goodman Gallery (London). March 12 - July 25 2020