Dana Lixenberg won the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2017.
The Dutch born photographer and filmmaker was selected as the recipient of the £30,000 prize for her bold, un-sentimentalised black and white portraits of the residents and community of the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts, Los Angeles.
Begun in 1993 just after the Los Angeles riots, Imperial Courts (1993-2015) was driven by Lixenberg’s desire to subvert the frenetic, sensationalised and often gratuitous media coverage of the affected communities. Gradually gaining the trust – or at least tolerance – of the residents of Imperial Courts (she became known as ‘the picture lady’), Lixenberg returned again and again over the next 22 years to build up a complex and evocative ‘album’ of both the individual and collective stories.
Her images display a nuanced yet formalistic approach to the photographic medium, reflecting its power to express universal themes and ideas through a purely visual form. Each portrait is a complete narratives in itself, but seen together they create a potent record of a community under siege – where lives have been lost, people disappeared or incarcerated, and the children of early photographs grown up and had children of their own. In the last few years, Lixenberg introduced audio and video recording as a way of documenting the conversations and soundtrack of the neighbourhood adding another dimension to the multifaceted project and creating a multimedia digital space with collaborator Eefje Blankevoort.
Imperial Courts (1993-2015), is published by Roma Publications (2015)
EKOW ESHUN, WRITER & BROADCASTER presentation speech:
“I’ll keep it short – in the history of prize giving there has never been a moment when the crowd has clamoured for more. So I’ll keep it tight.
Just really to say a couple of things. First, I wanted to say a quick word about TPG.
I look forward to this show every year and I look forward always to being here, in TPG, which does such an extraordinary job at bringing together amazing work. I curated a show here last year myself and it was such a pleasure being involved with this jewel of a place, the most important, most constantly revelatory site for photography in London, in Britain – Brett and her whole team do fantastic work here.
And second, obviously most importantly, onto the prize…
The writer, the journalist in me struggles for patterns. It’s dangerous because the one thing really that unites everyone here is that they are gathered now, for this prize.
Still even so, at the least we can say that each of these projects is the result of an incredible journey.
Some of those are physical – in the case of Awo-iska van der Molen, who travelled to Japan, Norway and Crete for her show Blanco. And also for Tai-yo Onorato & Nico Krebs, who made a road trip across central asia for their project Eurasia.
Another journey takes the form of repetition – for Dana Lixemberg, returning over and again to the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts over 22 years.
And for Sophie Calle, whose piece displayed here, My Mother, My Father, My Cat it was a journey of emotional intensity and memory, into a memorialising of her parents and her pet.
So yes, you can say that there’s a form by which these are gathered together but of course, that’s not the half of it.
Taken together, these projects do exemplify what I don’t think any other artistic medium can do with the same acuity and the same emotional intimacy.
These are journeys into the heart of lives and landscapes. These are journeys into human experience.
And they’re a reminder that photography is a uniquely human medium. It’s one we’re all accustomed to, It’s one we’re all familiar with reading. But in the hands of true, accomplished artists, it’s a medium which allows us to go beyond ourselves, into the lives of others, into ways of seeing and feeling.
Here, literally, is life and death and romance and uncertainty. Here is vastness and the void and the mysteries of nature. And adventure and romance and intimacy and beauty and fragility.
I don’t exaggerate when I say with each of these projects I was by turns excited and elated and amused and profoundly moved – how could it be otherwise when you look into the work of artists and find them extending themselves as far as they will go – journeying as far as they can go – how can you fail, to be anything but transported in return.”
Cover photo: Dana Lixenberg Wilteysha, 1993 © Dana Lixenberg Courtesy of the artist and Grimm, Amsterdam
Source: The Photographer’s Gallery