Dutch photographer Dana Lixenberg has spent the past 22 years portraiting individuals from the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts, South Central Los Angeles. Following the riots that erupted in 1992 as a result of the Rodney King trial and the one-dimensional stereotyped media accounts that ensued, Lixenberg felt compelled to document the changing face of this community and shed light on the harsh realities of race relations in the Watts area. Originally met with adversity and hesitation, her soft, patient and direct style prevailed which in turn, allowed her to capture honest moments with individuals and to “Create a space where someone just is…a genuine exchange between (her) and the subject,” she said.
Lixenberg conveys a realness and truth, which, over the past two decades has grown in significance due to the unfortunately continuing neglect and social isolation of the community. When seeing photographs side-by-side - although twenty years has passed and time has moved on, “People die, people are in and out of jail, and there is a lot of heartbreak,” she states - very little has altered; fundamental conditions are unchanged and there appears to be a collapse of time, a community held in a state of limbo despite incremental progress and revisions under Obama’s presidency.
Released in 2015, the 300 page photographic journal was accompanied by an exhibition and a web documentary that encompassed portraits, audio, visual, short poetic stories and contributions by Imperial Courts residents. Traversing from a political project to a personal project, the book chronicles the memories, resilience and community spirit of the Imperial Courts.