Imperial Courts is a group of photos that punch you in the stomach. The series consists of textured portraits that grip you and force you to engage with the subjects. The environment, the stares, the looks of joy, the gaze of the photographer, the changing scenes; all leave you holding your breath.
Dana Lixenberg, the recent recipient of the Deutsch Börse Photography Foundation Prize, dedicated twenty-two years to traveling from Amsterdam to South Central Los Angeles. What started as a commission to photograph the scene after the Rodney King trial riots, turned into one of the strongest portrait series made in decades.
Lixenberg approached her subjects with an element that is too often missing in photo stories; compassion and respect. She explains more to The Guardian, “The media focused on the Bloods and Crips [gangs], and would come in a van, shoot an item, and leave. I felt photography was a way to step into the real scenario. I worked with a large-format camera on a tripod, slowing down the process, and focused on details and body language.”
The idea of slowing down and heightening the awareness of subtle communication as a photographer greatly paid off for Lixenberg. The people in her photographs allowed her to return to their community to share their daily life. This wouldn’t have happened with a photographer who just swooped in and tried to make an opportunity out of their misfortune. Over the years of her project, the community lost members, bore children, disappeared, or went to jail. All of these life transitions are powerfully communicated on the faces in the photographs. Lixenberg says on her site, “Over the years, Imperial Courts has gone from being the epicenter of race riots to an anonymous deprived neighbourhood. The media attention has died down, but the lives of the residents go on.”
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