Imperial Courts tracks the changing shape of a small, inner-city community from South Central Los Angeles through a combination of video, a web documentary, audio recordings, and a series of 393 black and white photographs made with a large format camera. The photos are compiled in a monograph published by ROMA Publications in 2015, which was nominated for several photo book awards and received the biennial Dutch Photo Book Prize 2017. Imperial Courts was awarded the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2017, and is currently exhibited at Aperture, New York, USA and at Centre Photographique, Rouen, France.
In 1992, Lixenberg traveled to South Central Los Angeles to photograph a magazine story on the aftermath of the riots that erupted following the acquittal of four LAPD officers who were involved in the brutal beating of Rodney King. What she encountered inspired her to return to the area and eventually led her to the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts. The potent combination of racial injustice, community frustration, and one-dimensional media coverage pushed her to start a project portraying the residents of Imperial Courts.
Beginning in 1993 and continuing until the spring of 2015, Lixenberg gradually created a collaborative and multi-layered record of the community of Imperial Courts. Electing to face away from the spectacle of destruction, Lixenberg looks towards those whose lives typically receive public notice only in the event of calamity. Her portraiture addresses the individuated characteristics of the residents with delicacy and specificity, reflecting a series of individuals who collectively constitute an evolving community.
By 2012, Lixenberg has become a familiar face in Imperial Courts. To add a new dimension to the project, she began shooting short film sequences. Lixenberg’s videos immerse us in the dense fabric of daily life in this small housing project through an interlinking chain of vignettes that skip across three channels. These quietly observed scenes are set against the changeable volatile score of nearby houses, cars, ice cream trucks, and streets. In one vignette, Lixenberg invites us to observe a rite of passage as a young couple prepares to depart for their senior prom, their every move photographed by a panoply of cameras and camera-phones. In another, she sets a still camera close to a modest memorial that borders