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  • Articles by Sonali

    The Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize Exhibition 2017


    Now into its twentieth year, the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize is awarded by the Photographers’ Gallery to the artist (of any nationality) who has made the greatest contribution to photography over the past year.

    Dana Lixenberg was awarded this year's prize on 18 May for her photobook Imperial Courts, a project which has spanned from 1993 to 2015. In 1993 Lixenberg was commissioned by Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland, to take photographs of the residents of the Imperial Courts Housing Project in Watts, Los Angeles, in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots which happened nearby in 1992.

    Lixenberg revisited the Imperial Courts on several occasions over the next 22 years documenting the evolution of the community. In the process she built up a rapport with the residents and became known as ‘the picture lady’ although at first they were wary of her, thinking she was an FBI agent.

    She brings the situation of this previously neglected community to public attention. Her photographs give us a close up view of the ghetto and its inhabitants, offering a different and more humane angle at a time when the rest of the mainstream media seemed to be in a hurry to get out of Watts.

    The pared down, black and white pictures give a gritty, documentary feel. We’re introduced to the residents in a series of life-size portraits which makes it seem as if we’re meeting them in person. The figures are bold, sculptural and imposing. A few of them appear defiant, posturing. Many of the subjects look at us directly. They’ve been given a platform here.

    We follow their individual narratives. There are pictures that chronicle lives over the years, such as the J-50 series where the subject is photographed in 1993, 2008 and 2013. We also find out that some of the subjects are spending time in jail or have since passed away. We see a portrait of a young boy, Tony in 1993, next to a picture of his memorial in 2010.

    The tone remains understated and matter-of-fact throughout.  Lixenberg says “I want each image to be its own self-contained story, and then together, as a body, they present the community in a certain way. It’s not the wild west with people shooting each other, but people do live with a lot of loss and death.” She adds that her subjects may have changed over the years. But the conditions and buildings on the estate haven’t improved.

    While viewing, you can listen on headphones to the lively reaction of the residents to Lixenberg’s work. They sound genuinely pleased with the resulting photobook and really chuffed that she has taken the time to document their lives. This is an extensive and meticulous body of work. The completion of the project has political resonance, chiming with the success of The Sellout by Paul Beatty and the ESPN Films documentary, OJ: Made in America which includes footage of the race riots in Watts.

    Other nominees covered diverse subjects, from travel to landscape photography and the loss of loved ones.

    The conceptual artist Sophie Calle was nominated for her work My mother, my cat and my father in that order focusing on the recent loss of all three family members. Here she looks at their influence on her life and considers their absence. These photographs are accompanied by text, creating an installation that is both poignant and whimsical.

    Awoiska van der Molen from Holland spent months in isolation in Japan, Norway and Crete. The result is Blanco, atmospheric landscape photography with a sense of mystery heightened by the fact that the explanatory placards don’t say where they were taken.

    In their work Eurasia, Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs have taken film footage and photographs during a road trip around the Ukraine, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia ‒ territories in a state of flux. We see photographs of post-Soviet architecture and footage of a wrestling competition in Mongolia. There is also a series of portraits captured as moving images.

    The exhibition, which is over now, throws a lens on the world, in term of regions or communities that are ignored or unexplored, aswell as reflecting on life and loss.

     


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