Collection 1970s–Today

Rineke Dijkstra. Almerisa, Asylum Center, Leiden, The Netherlands. March 14, 1994 289

Chromogenic color print, 13 3/4 × 11" (35 × 28 cm). Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel. © 2020 Rineke Dijkstra

Artist, Rineke Dijkstra: Hello. I’m Rineke Dijkstra and you are looking at Almerisa. I first met her in 1995, in an Asylum Seeker Center in Leiden, the Netherlands, where I was working on a series of portraits of children of refugees. I met her parents, and they told me that they were refugees from Bosnia, where they escaped from the war, and they just arrived in Holland two weeks earlier after they roamed around in Europe for about six months.

I was photographing another kid, and Almerisa was watching me as I was photographing this other kid, and suddenly she started to cry, and I ask her, well, what's wrong, what's the matter? And she said, I also want to be photographed. And I said, well, do you have a nice dress? (Laughs) And she said, yes, sure. And so 20 minutes later she came back in this outfit. And I think because she has just cried before, she looked a bit sad and silent, which I think makes this picture really special.

One thing I really like in the pictures of Almerisa, if you look at the third picture, the moment that she gets grounded in the Netherlands, her feet also reach the ground. And you can see how Almerisa is changing, transforming from a child into a young woman in the way she dresses, but also in her attitude, you can see how she's adapting to West European culture.

As a photographer, you're only partly in control. You can control the background and you can control the light, but how the figure is sitting… that's what she decides, and I don't like to give many directions. I like it when a portrait has something mysterious, which you can never really put your finger on.