For the series Emma, Lucy, Cécile (Three Sisters, 2008–2014) Rineke Dijkstra made photographic portraits of three sisters in Amsterdam, once a year for seven years. She had a special reason for this choice: the sisters are almost exactly seven years in age apart. In 2008, when Dijkstra took the first photographs, Emma was eighteen years old, Lucy ten, and Cécile four. The series of twenty-one portraits now on display at Galerie Max Hetzler thus has a range of intriguing implications. For one thing, Emma, Lucy, Cécile represent all ages from four to twenty-four—only seventeen is missing. More importantly, the differences in age between the sisters make them representative of each stage of youth: Cécile is the bashful, budding child, Lucy the adolescent who undergoes a complete transformation in the course of the project, and Emma the young adult, almost fully grown from the start and hardly changing. At the same time, Emma, Lucy, and Cécile are also three daughters of the same father and mother; the sisters sometimes have remarkably similar features and traits, and at other times differ so markedly it’s hard to believe they’re related. It is that ambiguity, above all, that gives the series its power; the viewer is constantly aware of the ways in which everyday reality and symbolism intertwine.
Rineke Dijkstra first met the family in 2005, in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark. There she took a photograph of Emma and her boyfriend Ben, which soon became one of the best-known works in her Park series. Emma is the pretty girl in the red dress, which almost seems to glow amid the symphony of greenery that conceals her boyfriend. In 2008, Dijkstra began photographing the three sisters, always at Easter and always separately. She followed the same pattern as in her well-known series Almerisa and Olivier: by taking photos at regular intervals, she invites us to follow her subjects as they transform over time. Yet because these are three sisters, the emphasis is less on the individual and more on the underlying factors that play a large part in shaping any human being: origins and time. The resemblance between the three sisters is not especially strong, but there are subtle similarities, which create the sense that their parents gave each daughter the same box of puzzle pieces, from which each one assembled her external appearance in her own very personal way. The emphasis on the relationships between the sisters is reinforced by Dijkstra’s decision to display the three portraits from a given year side by side. This gives the series a significance far beyond the personal. What would it be like to see the family these girls come from? Would it make any difference? And do these photos tell you anything about their future?
That same theme resurfaces in Dijkstra’s recent video Marianna (The Fairy Doll), shown in the adjacent room. It shows Marianna, a young Russian ballerina practicing for her audition for the prestigious Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg. Her talent is unmistakable, but the constant stream of commentary from her teacher (who remains off screen) makes it difficult for the girl to maintain the poise expected of her. Her face betrays a constant struggle between ambition, desire, and fatigue. Will she fit into the system? Will she be accepted? That powerful theme ties together this exhibition: no matter how closely we follow the development of girls like Marianna, Emma, Lucy, and Cécile, and no matter how much we care about them, we can never predict what their next move will be. Dijkstra’s engagement with them reveals the rich complexity of their personalities—personalities that are not yet, and may never be, finished. That unresolved tension is what holds our gaze.
– Hans den Hartog Jager, 2017
Rineke Dijkstra was born 1959 in Sittard and lives and works in Amsterdam. Her works were presented in numerous solo exhibitions at international institutions, such as the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee (2016); Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem (both 2014); Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt/Main (2013); SFMOMA, San Francisco; Guggenheim Museum, New York (both 2012); Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2011); Tate Liverpool, Liverpool (2010); Fundació la Caixa, Barcelona and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (both 2005). Dijkstra’s works form part of renowned collections, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum Folkwang, Essen; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk; MoMA, New York; LACMA, Los Angeles; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Tate Modern, London.