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Book of the Week: A Pick by Sarah Bradley

Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Sarah Bradley Sarah Bradley selects Imperial Courts: 1993-2015 by Dana Lixenberg as Book of the Week.
Imperial Courts: 1993-2015By Dana Lixenberg
Roma Publications, 2015.
This week’s Book of the Week pick comes from Sarah Bradley who has selected Imperial Courts: 1993-2015 by Dana Lixenberg from Roma Publications.

"Had I seen a copy of Imperial Courts prior to list-time, I would have picked it as one of my Best Books of 2015. Dana Lixenberg’s 22-year document of the residents of the Imperial Courts housing project in South Central Los Angeles is stunning in scope and practice. The 4x5 black and white portraits capture individuals over decades, as well as the subsequent generations of their families, mixing in quiet atmospheric images of the housing project itself to create a portrait of a community through time. Photographs aside, what makes this book work so well is its restrained design, resulting in a document that feels both understated and ample.

We start in 1993. Portraits follow in that time frame, then as we’ve grown accustom to the rhythm, a caption below a photo on the left reads 2013. The photograph itself doesn’t reveal the date. The image of a man holding a months-old child contains little to indicate the passing of 20 years, but the caption explains that pictured are the son and grandson of Toussaint, the man who stares directly into the camera on the right hand page in a portrait taken in 1993. Toussaint looks perhaps younger in this photo than his son does in the 2013 image. Time splits and doubles back on itself; flip the page and there is Toussaint again, this time older, this time photographed in 2008. The book continues like this, moving back and forth through time, drawing familial connections, connections between images of individuals spanning years, all with the backdrop of the Imperial Courts housing project, whose face scarcely changes. About half the book is taken up by these beautifully printed full-page portraits, then an essay by Carla Williams, and then portraits appear again, this time printed four to a page and broken down by the year they were taken, annotated with thumbnails of other images of each sitter and portraits of the members of their families. Additional images are presented here, and this extensive cross-reference creates another way to view these images and this community. A handwritten document called Life in the Imperial Courts, written by one of the portrait sitters, closes the photographs and an essay by Lixenberg comes at the very end. She lets the residents of Imperial Courts speak first.

How do you deal with 22-years worth of material in a way that honors both the extensiveness of the project, the investment in the community and the voices of its individuals without becoming exhausting in thoroughness? Imperial Courts has found a way by remaining both subtle and dynamic."—Sarah Bradley

Purchase Book

Imperial Courts: 1993-2015By Dana LixenbergRoma Publications, 2015.
Imperial Courts: 1993-2015By Dana LixenbergRoma Publications, 2015.

Sarah Bradley is a writer, sculptor and the Editor of photo-eye Blog. She recently worked with Meow Wolf on the exhibition The House of Eternal Return.

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