Rineke Dijkstra studied photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam from 1981 to 1986. Through the late 1980s, she photographed people in clubs for magazines in the Netherlands and worked for corporations as a portraitist.
In 1990 she injured her hip when her car was struck by a bicycle. A self-portrait produced during her rehabilitation, in which she is seen having just emerged from a pool, exhausted, sparked a new direction in her work. Commissioned by a Dutch newspaper to make photographs based on the notion of summertime, Dijkstra took provocative photographs of adolescent bathers. These ultimately formed her breakthrough Beaches Series (1992–96), which featured her young subjects in different locations in the United States and Europe. From this point on, people in transitional moments would be a major theme in her work. In 1994 she photographed mothers in the moments after giving birth and bullfighters about to enter the arena; she also commenced a series of images of Almerisa, an adolescent Bosnian refugee, whom she continued to photograph until 2003.
Dijkstra ventured into video with The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK/Mysteryworld, Zaandam, NL, taping adolescents at raves between 1996 and 1997. She has also focused on particular individuals entering the military, as in her images of Olivier Silva, a French Foreign Legionnaire (2000-2001), and new inductees into the Israeli army (2002-2003). For the series Park Portraits (2003-2006), Dijkstra photographed children, adolescents, and teenagers momentarily suspending their varied activities to stare into the lens.
Dijkstra has had numerous solo and group exhibitions all over the world. She has received much recognition for her work, including the Kodak Award, Nederland (1987); the Art Encouragement Award, Amstelveen (1993); the Werner Mantz Award (1994), the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (1998); and the Macallan Royal Photography Prize (2012). She lives and works in Amsterdam.