Rineke Dijkstra's photographs of adolescents, shot on beaches from the Ukraine to Coney Island, from Brighton to Dubrovnik, are like powerful short stories, evocative, spare, strangely touching. Overleaf, in an extract from his notes to a new exhibition, Michael Bracewell considers their peculiar power
A young girl on a Polish beach becomes a contemporary of Botticelli's Venus Rising From the Waves, with the bodily awkwardness of adolescence set in stark contrast to the lime-green satinette of her swimming costume. Two black boys, each seemingly secure within his graceful physique, defy the photographer to steal their composure. A little girl, still wet from the sea in Brighton, presents an image of a Victorian figurine from nautical folklore in her old-fashioned costume and round-faced candour. Only her bitten red-varnished nails mark her out as a child of the MTV generation, from which her position by the eerily green sea appears to distance her.

These portraits of teenagers in their swimming costumes, by Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra, are from her "Beaches" series, taken between 1992 and 1996 in Poland, Croatia, the Ukraine, Belgium, England and America.

The subjects have been encountered playing in or by the sea, and called to attention or self-consciousness by the process of being photographed. Seen as a whole, Beaches becomes an international portrait of youth, communicating that condition through a visual Esperanto. The mere act of being photographed has raised them from supporting to starring roles. The human glide from innocence to experience is articulated by the faces of the teenagers, while their social and economic position - from the Baywatch body-consciousness of the young Americans, to the less styled appearance of their East European counterparts - is all too evident in their reaction to the cameras as much as in their swimming costumes.

The young people offer themselves with obedience, resignation, feigned boredom, defiance or nervous bewilderment, to the camera's authority. Thus, these portraits become a recorded moment of collision betwen youth and authority, awkwardness and ease, or a transaction between the photographer and her subject in the inconsequential yet potent setting of the beach. Dijkstra works in both still photography and video, with neither voyeurism nor the superiority of irony. Rather her camera becomes a conduit for an exhange of compassion, and reveals the pride and vulnerability within us all CAPTIONS-A little girl, still wet from the sea in Brighton, presents an image of a Victorian figurine from nautical folklore in her old-fashioned costume and round-faced candour Jalta, Ukraine. 30 July, 1993 Brighton, England. 21 August, 1992 Hilton Head Island, SC. USA. 27 June, 1992 Kolobrzeg, Poland. 26 July, 1992 Oostende, Belgium. 7 August, 1992 Long Island, NY, USA. 1 July, 1993 De Panne, Belgium. 7 August, 1992 Dubrovnik, Croatia. 13 July, 1996 Kolobrzeg, Poland. 23 July, 1992 Coney Island, NY, USA. 20 July, 1993

Rineke Dijkstra's still and video portraits of Beaches, Mothers and Babies and Young People in Nighclubs are at the Photographer's Gallery, 8 Great Newport St, London WC2 from 29 Nov to 10 Jan. Details, 0171-831 1772

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