Using the slow process of a large 4x5 field camera, Dana Lixenberg produces photographs that are characterised by details that capture the vulnerability and humanity of their subjects, regardless of who they are.Read More
After studying photography at the London College of Printing (1984–1986) and the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam (1987–1989), Lixenberg moved to New York in 1990. In 1993, the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland commissioned her to cover reconstruction efforts in Imperial Courts, a public housing project in Watts, Los Angeles, that had been affected by the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The riots, which occurred in response to the acquittal of police officers involved in assaulting a young African American man named Rodney King, had heightened media interest in the area, much of which Lixenberg considered to be superficial and sensationalised. Lixenberg's observations subsequently motivated her to start 'Imperial Courts' (1993–2015). With her first long-term and significant project, she aimed to subvert the widespread stereotypes about the community.
Returning to Imperial Courts over the years, Lixenberg widened the scope of her project after 2008 by incorporating video and sound, and increasingly began taking more landscape and group shots as she grew closer with the community. Mostly black and white, the images focus on their subjects' character rather than their background. In 2015, 393 photographs were published in a book (Imperial Courts 1993–2015), and Lixenberg received the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize for the project in 2017. 'Imperial Courts' lives on as a website (http://www.imperialcourtsproject.com) that includes a documentary, audio recordings, and contributions by the residents.
Imperial Courts was first published in 1993 in the United States in the November edition of Vibe. This led Lixenberg to work with an international clientele including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, and The Telegraph. She became recognised for her intimate and sober portraits of American cultural icons, from Tupac Shakur (1994)—the source image for the Tupac memorial mural in Manhattan after the rapper was shot in 1996—to Mary J. Blige seemingly asleep on a sofa (2001). Many of these were exhibited in Lixenberg's solo presentation American Images at GRIMM Frans Halsstraat, Amsterdam, in 2018, followed by an iteration at the gallery's New York location in 2020.
Lixenberg is also known for her documentary projects depicting underrepresented communities, offering an insight into their lives. This is evident in 'Jeffersonville, Indiana' (1997–2004), in which the artist portrays the residents of Haven House Homeless Shelter outside or against ambiguous backgrounds, emphasising their individuality over their homeless status. In 'The Last Days of Shishmaref' (2007), Lixenberg portrays an Inupiaq community living on an island in Alaska, threatened by rising sea levels due to global warming, focusing on the dilemma its residents face over relocation. The project also exists online as a website (http://www.thelastdaysofshishmaref.com/shishmaref3/cms/cms_module/index.php), showcasing a documentary by filmmakers Jan Louter and Melle van Essen, and a book featuring Lixenberg's photographs and educational text.
Biography by Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020