Photographer Dana Lixenberg is the woman behind a whole stack of iconic images of your favourite rappers of yesteryear. A slightly worse-for-wear Puff Daddy laying cocooned on a bed in a fluffy towelling robe surrounded by archaic communication devices, Biggie Smalls counting 50 dollar bills in an acid-tripping jumper, a doe-eyed Tupac gazing soulfully into the camera lens: looking through Dana’s archive brings a needle and thread to all the uncredited images you’ve seen floating around the internet but never had a clue as to their origins.
Rappers aside, its the Dutch photographer’s long-term work with individuals and communities on the outside fringes of society that this year have gained Dana recognition in the form of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. The £30,000 prize, set up by The Photographer’s Gallery to acknowledge leading figures of contemporary photography, is one of the biggest photography awards of its kind, with Richard Mosse and Rineke Dijkstra among the former winners.
Dana’s series, Imperial Courts, 1993-2015, which as the title suggests was captured in Imperial Courts, a social housing project in LA: one of the city’s oldest. It all started when, in the aftermath of race riots in 1992, Dana was commissioned by Dutch publication Vrij Nederland to photograph the city’s reconstruction. From there, a 22-year long project grew to span a book, exhibition and web documentary, Imperial Courts which tells the story of a place which became the epicentre of rioting against racial discrimination by the project’s African American residents in 1965 and 1992.
By including contributions by Imperial Courts residents along with portraits and stories in the form of audio, videos and texts, the project is an intensely multi-layered insight into the constantly shifting history of a community from the inside out. Dana’s strikingly paired back black and white portraits of the residents of Imperial Courts exist as a stark counterpoint to the instant thrill of her celebrity portraits.