Rineke Dijkstra is first and foremost a portraitist. Specifically, she documents individuals caught in transitional states of being: mothers just after giving birth; preadolescent bathers poised on various beaches in the United States and Eastern Europe; club kids just off the dance floor in England and the Netherlands; teenage soldiers in Israel. Formally, her comparative series resemble classical portraiture—frontally posed figures isolated against minimal backgrounds—and in some sense follow in the tradition of August Sander, the early- and mid-twentieth-century chronicler of occupational typologies in Germany. In contrast to Sander who sought to fix and identify social types—the baker, the bricklayer, the peasant—Dijkstra searches for glimmers of individuality among like types—a hair out of place, a bead of sweat on the brow, an uneven stance. The uniformity within each series is disrupted by the sitter's emotional and physical particularities, which often expressly communicate a tension heightened by his or her shifting state.
Although she isolates the bathers in her Beaches series (1992–96) and frames them with only sea and sky, Dijkstra reveals much about them by capturing a subtle gesture or expression in these unguarded moments that reside somewhere between the posed and the natural. The end result is a collaboration between sitter and photographer, a record, however partial, of their interaction. In photographing the already awkward young subjects in their bathing suits, Dijkstra sets up a situation marked by exposure and self-consciousness that parallels the uneasy passage between childhood and adulthood. The images represent individuals from various countries and, as a whole, add up to a meditation on adolescent disconcertment. The photograph is the ideal medium for Dijkstra's practice precisely because of its explicit suspension of the movement of time: like Dijkstra's subjects, photographs are always between one moment and another.