A sitter for a photograph performs for the camera by posturing, aware of the potential viewer of the photograph, as she or he would not for a portrait painting, as we see in Sally Mann's photograph of children (Left). A nascent actor will spontaneously strike a pose, but even someone who is shy and feels awkward in front of a camera, self-consciously performs by concealing her or his person behind a mask. The sitter’s straight gaze enlivens the figure like an interlocutor, and even with downcast or averted eyes, the body responds to the camera with the comportment of the body, the tilt of the head, and the positioning of the legs, arms, hand and fingers.
If the subject does not perform, the photograph is a snapshot, and she or she, caught unawares, does not even see the camera or does so too late to pose.
Rineke Dikstra’s subjects may stare at the came but often do not register their presence to the viewer (Right). The arms dangle (or stiffen), the shoulders slump, and the body begins to sag -- just a little. They are physically present but psychologically absent. In this absence the viewer is able to study the persona the sitter did not want to reveal when she or he was responding to the camera, who is thus “more present and unmediated in realistic detail and emotional mood,” in the words of Roberta Smith. In Dijkstra’s own words, these photographs “showed what we don’t want to to show any more but still feel.” She is said to have explained that, using a 4 x 5 field camera, she instructs the subject to pose and then takes a long time to prepare the shot in order to wait until her/his attention begins to slacken from the boredom of waiting, and then clicks the shutter.
I believe here lies the secret of her portrait photographs which engages us with a curiously relaxed intensity.