TPG Golden Editions: Dana Lixenberg

 Lil Yang, 2008 © Dana Lixenberg | Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam | New York

TPG Golden Editions: Dana Lixenberg

The sixth release in TPG’s 50th Anniversary Golden Editions series is this touching image by Dutch photographer Dana Lixenberg (b.1964 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands).

The portrait of Lil Yang – asleep whilst getting a haircut - is part of the series “Imperial Courts, 1993-2015”, for which the artist received the Deutsche Börse Foundation Photography Award in 2017.

 Lil Yang, 2008 © Dana Lixenberg | Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam | New York

TPG Golden Editions #6: Dana Lixenberg

Silver Gelatine Print
Edition of 20 + 2 APs
Image size: 25.5 x 32cm
Sheet size: 29.5 x 36 cm
From £900 + VAT

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In 1992, several southern districts of Los Angeles hit the headlines when they were gripped by civil unrest. The rebellion was triggered by the case of Rodney King, an African-American who was the victim of excessive police violence. Despite overwhelming evidence from a video recording, the police officers were acquitted by a predominantly white jury. Among the journalists who came to the stricken areas of Los Angeles to cover the riots and their aftermath was young Dutch photographer Dana Lixenberg, who had recently moved to the USA. She was commissioned by a Dutch magazine to do a story about efforts to rebuild the area.

One year later, Dana returned to South Central Los Angeles and, after meeting PJ Watts Crips gang leader Tony Bogard, ended up at Imperial Courts, a public housing project in Watts. She wanted to create an alternative to the often one-dimensional and sensationalized reporting in the media by starting a photo project about the residents of Imperial Courts. She chose a large-format camera, preferring the slower, deliberate photographic process this involves, and portrayed the mostly African-American residents in black-and-white. The project turned out to be a long-term undertaking: Dana visited Imperial Courts many times over the course of 22 years. In 2015, she published her single and group portraits as well as views of the housing estate in the photo book "Imperial Courts, 1993-2015". The photos, together with video and audio recordings produced over the years and an online platform, provide a comprehensive and nuanced insight into the people's lives at Imperial Courts. Their community suffers from the consequences of institutional racism, violence and a lack of prospects.

For Dana, the drama in photography comes largely from the "small gestures, the rich texture of skin, body language and the way a person positions him- or herself". Dana took all of her photographs outdoors so that the reading of her portraits is not influenced or defined by private environments. She avoids stereotypical classifications and approaches her subjects with great respect. The time intervals between the portraits are evident not only in hairstyles and clothes, but also in the changes that had taken place in Imperial Courts. Over the years, some residents had been killed or imprisoned, while the children in her earlier photographs had grown up and started their own families. The project therefore not only helps to increase the visibility of a community that is underrepresented in the public eye, but is also important as a way of remembering, as a chronicle of familial relations in Imperial Courts. 

The Photographers’ Gallery holds a special place in my heart. In the mid-80’s, during the grim Thatcher era, I studied at the LCP (London College of Printing), now called LCC. TPG was an important place of reference for me and I regularly made my way to Great Newport street to learn about different expressions in photography and find inspiration (while often enjoying a tea and cake in the café!). To have had my work on TPG’s walls in 2017 and work with the passionate team was an amazing honour.

Dana Lixenberg