Tag Archives: Giving Birth

Rineke Dijkstra Makes the Awkward Sublime

Even before everybody had a digital camera, it was a universal modern skill to take photographs. But more than that, for a long time it’s been a universal skill to be photographed. For several decades now, everybody has known how to put on his or her game face and wait for the click. Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra has become famous by taking that as her point of departure, then wondering what happens when we can’t hold the pose. The answer: a moment of truth. One thing you learn at the new Dijkstra retrospective, currently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and moving in June to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, is that no matter how much you try to put on the social mask, it keeps slipping.

After graduating from an Amsterdam art school in 1986, Dijkstra, who is 52, made a living for a while shooting portraits for a Dutch business magazine. It was frustrating work, taking pictures of executives who knew all too well how to keep up their guard. Eventually, she returned to more personal picture-taking. Very quickly, Dijkstra found an international audience. For her breakthrough project in the early ’90s, she persuaded teenagers at beaches in the U.S. and Europe to pose against a bare backdrop of sky, sea and shore. The fascination of those pictures comes partly from the mind’s attempt to reconcile the “timeless” setting with the sometimes awkward, and often futile, attempts by the teens to assume the attitudes of glamor and cool they think the camera requires.

Hoping to catch people with their defenses down, Dijkstra started to photograph them in the aftermath of some exhausting event. She got women to pose soon after giving birth, usually standing naked while they cradled their newborns. By 1994 she was also making portraits of Portuguese forcados—amateur bullfighters who enter the ring in unarmed groups to subdue the bulls bare-handed. She photographed them right after they returned from the fight, bloody, scuffed and dented.

To watch someone evolve from youth into adult awareness, Dijkstra has sometimes followed a single subject for years—a French boy who joins the foreign legion, a Bosnian refugee girl as she grows up in the Netherlands—as his or her life goes through changes. Or, as she did with the kids on beaches, she will go to parks and photograph very contemporary people in a setting that pulls them out of time—but only so far. And to make sure her pictures don’t take on a false timelessness, Dijkstra makes sure each one carries in its title the very real location in which it was taken and the date.

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective is on display from Feb. 18 through May 28 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and will open at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City on June 29.

Photographer #405: Daniel Gordon

Daniel Gordon, 1980, USA, is a conceptual photographer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He received a BA at Bard College in 2003 and an MFA at Yale University in 2006. He works in a sculptural way. He searches on the internet for images that he can use. The images he finds are printed and cut in order to make large three dimensional collages. These collages are life-size, using his own body as a reference. Once the collages are finished he photographs them with a large format camera. After the photograph has been made he disassembles the sculptures in order to use several body parts for new works. In his series Thin Skin II he depicts the human body in extreme situations as giving birth, accidents and operations. Both of his parents were doctors and he feels that seeing the images of operations when he was young have influenced him in his work today. His photographs have been exhibited extensively in the US and several times in Switzerland and France. The following works come from the series Still Lifes, Portraits & Parts, Portrait Studio and Thin Skin II.

Website: www.danielgordonstudio.com

Krisanne Johnson Awarded the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography

Coming of age for Swazi girls is tough. A tiny African nation of one million, Swaziland is ruled by one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies. Its age-old tradition of polygamy and its relaxed attitude toward sexuality have met in a devastating combination for women: Swaziland reports the highest percentage of HIV positive people in the world, with young women being affected most. Half of young Swazi women are HIV positive, and life expectancy has dropped from 61 years to almost 31 years over the past ten years.

Every year, young maidens from across the country gather for the Umhlanga dance, an eight-day ceremony in honor of the Queen Mother to celebrate their virginity. I first went to Swaziland in 2006 to document this annual dance and other coming of age rites of young women living amid a spreading disease and its victims—women who, even in the face of such staggering odds and deep uncertainty, still possess all the energy and enthusiasm of youth. My goal was to capture the nuances that comprise a human, rather than simply tragic, experience.

Over the past five years, the progression of this work has moved from traditional rites of passage to modern youth culture to an intimate look inside the homes of HIV-positive women. My insights have matured along with these young women. It has allowed me to witness fast-tracked intimacy and friends lost and gained. It has made me see that girls here are constantly on the verge––of giving birth to burying best friends, of finding love to fighting for life alone, stigmatized and heartbroken.

These moments in my interactions with young Swazi women remind me of the complicated, frustrating, and deeply human nature of their predicaments, choices and desires. I’ve seen childhood friends reconnect across beds in a hospice, one of which was fighting the inevitable with her lone T-cell—her “one soldier.” I’ve watched innumerable women leave their rural homes to look for nonexistent work near the city, knowing that they will make easy prey for older men who will support them for sex. I’ve photographed a young HIV-positive woman who refuses to take medication out of fear it would indicate to others her impending death. Instead, she tells me about her dreams of joining the army to earn “money like dust” to support herself and her newborn child, joking in the same breath about how she probably won’t make it to twenty and see me on my next trip back. It is difficult to comprehend how she so easily accepts the contradictions in her life. That her own mother is too scared to tell her daughter or any of her friends that she herself has started anti-retroviral treatment—out of fear of gossip and isolation—seems to underscore the frustrating reality that for every step forward, there is a step back.

And that’s the thing: there isn’t a single story, just frustrating inconsistencies. Yet on each trip, I still find a sense of hope for what the future might hold, even as they navigate this narrow bridge between life and death.

Krisanne Johnson has been working on long-term personal projects about young women and HIV/AIDS in Swaziland and post-apartheid South African youth culture since 2006. Her work has appeared in various publications, including TIME, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, among others. I Love You Real Fast is on display through Nov. 26 at The Half King in New York City. 

Dania Patricia Maxwell

Dania Patricia Maxwell’s first goal was to become a teacher. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College she traveled to Shanghai, China to teach English and Geography for one year. ” I went to China with the idea that I could come back to the states to begin a safe career working as a teacher. The summer vacations would provide me with time to work as a photojournalist. Once completing the year, however, I realized that I would never be a photographer if I were working towards a different career. I realized that the greatest failure would be to realize a passion and choose against it because of fear. With that in mind I moved from Shanghai to San Francisco where I collected experience that would lead me to becoming a photojournalist.”

What Dania may not realize is that she IS a teacher, passing on her knowledge and insights through her lens and experiences. Now a graduate from the School of Visual Communication , Dania worked as an intern at the Sandusky Register in Sandusky, Ohio and later at the The Oregonian. I have more questions than answers, but like Rainer Maria Rilke says, I have to live the questions to arrive at the answers. I’m interested in learning about the world and about what is meaningful. Photography provides me with the tools to get closer to people and their stories. My hope is that if I’m learning someone else will too.

The series I am featuring below is Distinctly, about twin sisters who are alike, yet different.

Distinctively from Dania Patricia Maxwell on Vimeo.

Distinctively: Ella and Eavan Kuehnle were born only three minutes apart—identical twins that are separated by a large distinction: Ella has Down syndrome while Eavan does not.

Their mother, Kimberly “Kim” Kuehnle, spent two months during the summer of 2004 in the hospital before giving birth to the twins. Her umbilical chord was not providing proper flow to one of her soon-to-be daughters. Seven days after the twins were born, Kim and Jonathan drove home without a briefing from their caregivers. They knew only the contents of the orange folder: five pages of problems associated with Downs and a scientific definition of the type of Down syndrome Ella had.

“I think I cried every day for three months,” Kim said. “Jonathan told me that it didn’t matter what Ella has because she is still our baby. I cried also because he was more accepting that I was.”

When Kim made the call to Help me Grow, a state and federally funded organization in Cincinnati that offers therapy services for infants with developmental delays, she began to learn about and accept her daughter’s prognosis.

The activities that Kim and Jonathan participate in, coincide with the desire to increase awareness of Down syndrome. It is in the process of relating to people, who are not typical, that decreases the probability to make hurtful remarks. “We need to mainstream our Special Education or people with disabilities,” Jonathan said.

Kim and Jonathan Kuehnle know that there are too many beginnings for their twins to decide on any ends. “Ella may need some assistance when she’s older,” said Jonathan. “She’s 6 right now, so we just don’t know.”