January 14, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
What’s in a Portrait? Rineke Dijkstra’s Almerisa
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Rineke Dijkstra. From left: Almerisa, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands. March 24, 2007; Almerisa, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands. January 4, 2008; Almerisa, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands. June 19, 2008

One of the reasons I like Rineke Dijkstra’s photographic portraits so much is because of how she manages to convey the vulnerable side of her subjects, caught at a decisive moment of transition in their lives, usually from adolescence to incipient adulthood. Dijkstra was trained at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, and since the mid-1990s she has gained international acclaim for her penetrating pictures of teenagers and young adults. Using a 4×5-inch field camera with a standard lens and a tripod, she creates exacting portraits—frontal views, centered in the frame, posed against a minimal background—that offer remarkable observation and emotional force. Her subjects gaze directly at the camera, combining brooding psychological intensity with the formal classicism of seventeenth-century Dutch portraits by painters such as Johannes Vermeer.

Dijkstra’s work was first exhibited at MoMA in 1997 in New Photography 13, and the Museum has collected and shown her photographs ever since. Recently we added to the collection three new pictures from her celebrated series Almerisa. Dijkstra first photographed Almerisa—then a six-year-old whose family had relocated to Amsterdam from their native war-torn Bosnia—in 1994, as part of a project documenting children of refugees. Since that time, Dijkstra has kept in touch with the girl and continued to photograph her at one- or two-year intervals, always in distinct interior settings, chronicling not only her development from childhood to womanhood (including her becoming a mother), but also her cultural assimilation from Eastern to Western European. The artist has made eleven photographs of Almerisa over fourteen years, all of which are in the Museum’s collection.

Below, a slideshow of the entire series to date offers a time-lapse view of Almerisa’s aging and socialization, from the first image of her as a child sitting in an asylum center in Leiden to the most recent one of her holding her own newborn child. When asked about the great photographers who have influenced her practice, Dijkstra cites the work of Diane Arbus and Judith Joy Ross, also featured in the Museum’s collection. Like theirs, Dijkstra’s deeply compassionate portraits penetrate to the core of her subjects.