Dana Lixenberg - Dutch Photographer and Filmmaker

Dana Lixenberg - Dutch Photographer and Filmmaker


Dana Lixenberg is a Dutch photographer and filmmaker. She studied photography at the London College of Printing from 1984 to 1986, and at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam from 1987 to 1989. Several of her works have been published in Newsweek, Vibe, New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.


Known for her intimate and honest portraits, she conducts long-term projects on communities and individuals on the margins of society, capturing them with a large format camera. This rather bulky tool requires what she calls a "slow dance" between her and her subjects. For Lixenberg, it is important that each portrait tells a unique story and that she is able to project something of herself onto that portrait. By studying her subject, working on the composition, she creates a moment of suspended intimacy. It is the exposure and vulnerability of her subjects, regardless of their background, that creates something truly magical.


Her first and most extensive long-term project began in 1993. Sent by a newspaper to South Central, Los Angeles, to cover the riots that erupted following the verdict in the Rodney King trial (an African-American cab driver beaten by police officers who were ultimately acquitted), she unknowingly embarked on a monumental and what would prove to be career-defining project. Conducted over a 22-year period from 1993 to 2015, "Imperial Courts" is a photographic project about public housing in the Watts neighborhood, in which Lixenberg portrays the residents of a disadvantaged African-American community stirred up by a long history of racial injustice as distinct and charismatic personalities. "She observes, meets residents, listens, and discovers a reality far more harsh, complex, and nuanced than the rough and partisan media translation of it. She wants to respond to the haste and the noise with time and silence [...] During these twenty-two years, she has photographed men and women, as well as their young children, who have become parents in turn. Over the course of the photographs, filiations are reconstituted. The action of time on these beings is summarized in a concise photographic language, entirely centered on faces and gestures; a language that the photographer has never ceased to carve, visit after visit." (Centre Photographique Rouen Normandie)

The long-term realization allows the photographer to immortalize the passage of time, and to offer the public a complex artistic exhibition. In addition to her photographs, the project includes an exhibition with video projections and an audio installation, a book of the same name and an online documentary.


Among her other long-term photographic projects, Lixenberg produced "Jeffersonville, Indiana" (1997-2004), a collection of landscapes and portraits of the city's homeless population at the Haven House shelter over a seven-year period. Despite the dire circumstances of the people photographed, none of the images show them standing on a street corner or huddled on a doorstep. To capture the essence of these men, women and children, Lixenberg decided to photograph them away from their living conditions. The result is a book of bare and uncluttered images, focused on the human, on people defined by their personalities and not by their conditions.

Although many of them look troubled and tense in the photos, the context provided by the book gives greater visibility to the struggle against homelessness and gives a real voice to the members of Haven House. Thus, beyond an aesthetic investigation of these terrible living conditions, Lixenberg's work serves a functional purpose: "In the 2012-2013 school year, The U.S. Department of Education reported that the number of homeless children jumped nearly 10 percent. A staggering 1.2 million children are homeless, while the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found around 610,000 homeless individuals in January 2013" (allthatsinteresting.com), with the understanding that the estimates may be lower than reality.


She also travels all the way to Alaska to make the photo series "The Last Days of Shishmaref" (2007), which depicts the daily life of an Inupiad community on an eroding island off the coast of Alaska. "Shishmaref is disappearing. The village on an island off the coast of Alaska is slowly but surely being swallowed up by the sea. Global warming is causing the island's protective permafrost layer to melt; the Chukchi Sea is freezing later in the season, leaving ravaging waves free to batter the island. It is estimated that the community of 600 Inupiaq will have to leave their native land before 2020." (Grimm Gallery)

For several weeks during the winter and summer of 2007, Lixenberg stayed on this island and explored the complex relationship between the inhabitants and the landscape around them. " By combining portraiture, details of interiors, village tableaux, sea- and landscapes, Lixenberg creates a nuanced and complex portrait of this close-knit community, a community balancing between a past rooted in tradition and an uncertain future." (Grimm Gallery)

For this photographic project, Lixenberg used a variety of media that are complementary and reinforce each other: a website, a documentary film, a book and a traveling exhibition, as well as an educational project for high schools, accompanied by a DVD.


Lixenberg is also known for having created a collection of portraits of American personalities from the 1990s. Between writers, intellectuals, artists, rappers, politicians and entrepreneurs, Lixenberg sublimates through these various personalities the America of pre-9/11.

Twenty of her photographs were exhibited in 2020 at the GRIMM gallery in New York, in an exhibition entitled "American Images". From one portrait to another, we find this form of calm, introspection and sincerity often sought by Lixenberg. Among the celebrities immortalized in a moment of honest and intimate surrender are the iconic Prince and Whitney Houston, rapper Jay-Z, writer and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, supermodel Kate Moss, singer Al Green and many others.


Lixenberg's overall work has a remarkable altruistic and activist energy that highlights the human in all its splendor, but also in its pain. Her long-term photographic projects offer a voice to human and planetary causes, from minority and disadvantaged communities to climate change, and immortalize that voice so that it never fades.

Acclaimed and honored for her work, she notably received the 2017 Deutsche Börse Photography Award for "Imperial Courts" and was named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 2021.


Article par Julie Poutrel pour Adama Toulon