Portrait Photography

Written by Sunroad

Art, Documentation, or Just Images

A little while back, I went to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, to see a photography exhibition by dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra, The One and The Many. This got me thinking, like so often before, about how we define art, how we value it, how we judge both art and artist. What differentiates the art that makes it into the museums and galleries from the art that doesn’t. What differentiates the artists that makes it into the museums and galleries from the artists that doesn’t.

On their website, Louisiana describes Rineke Dijkstra as “one of the most prominent and internationally acclaimed artists working within the genre of photography and video portraiture.” Rineke Dijkstra has most definitely made it into museums and galleries, she has been judged, valued, and found worthy of our praise, yet I found myself standing among her pictures wondering why. No doubt she is a fantastic photographer, no doubt she knows how to take a great portrait, but so does a great many other photographers.

I have to be honest, when I was standing there, judging her photographs as art, I felt a lot of the images were really good images, but then not so much more than that. Images that I was quickly done with, like the mother-daughter portrait Marianna and Sasha, and the teenagers in Vondelpark. Images that make me think: yes you are a very talented photographer, and you really have your technique down, great but so what. Kind of like the way Krass Clement described the image quality of hobby photographers, as I have referred to in another post. With those images, I just couldn’t see what it was that justified all the fuss about her, and that feeling somehow overshadowed my overall experience of the exhibition at that time.

Looking at her images again, and reading what others have written about her work, made me reconsider my harsh first impression of the exhibition. While I still think that some of the very good images are just that; very good images and not much more, some of her series  and videos are growing on me. The works that dealt with time and changes actually really spoke to me. The portraits of Almerissa – Bosnian Refugee, photographed continually since 1994. Oliver – The French Foreign Legion, photographed several times over a period of three years. There is something unsettling about the repetition and the subtleness of these images, they are so very simplistic, so very alike, and in a way clinical, from the first image of each series, through to the last. Their faces somehow seems void of emotion and expression at first glance. On the surfaces alike in each and every picture, because of this, and the sheer scale of the images of course, you are drawn to the eyes and the small details. The eyes captivates me and makes me feel as if I am looking at the real person.

The feeling of “many people/I could have done that” when looking at art, is not new to me, and it always leeds to more questions. Would many people/I have done that? Is it not art just because someone else could have done it too? Could most conceptual art not technically be done by many people? What about realistic paintings that could be replicated? When does something become art? I will have to investigate these questions further in more new blogposts soon.

As I didn’t think ahead when I visited the exhibition, I didn’t think to take a picture there. This picture is of my brother, from a rock climbing trip to Kullaberg in Sweden last summer. 

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