3: Landscape as Political Text 5: Resolution Documentary Inspiration

Dana Lixenberg

My work is partly about the inevitable downside and consequences of capitalism which can result in a sense of alienation…actually I am part of it, and even people I photograph are part of this system and keep it going. I think [capitalism] has become a given because you can see how former and current communist countries are going the same way. I’m really aware of that, and want to face the realities and the downsides of that system that I find also attractive.

I find that the [documentary] portraits and landscapes are really about slowing down, cutting out all the noise and really taking time to contemplate the world around me every time with new eyes. The plain and the everyday is often very exciting to me. It can reveal a lot about life. I’m really inspired by details and I am usually more inspired by non-dramatic settings. Some of my images may seem boring, where there is nothing obvious going on, but I like playing with that, being on the fringes of boring.

While I have no expectation that I can influence social change or that I can ever make a concrete impact with the photographs, I do feel it’s kind of empowering to give the people you photograph a timeless presence in the larger world.

Google images


Interview for Mossless magazine


Film presentation: 

The Last Days of Shishmaref (2008) by Dana Lixenberg mixes landscape with formal portraits and still life to create a dynamic portrait of an Alaskan community that is under imminent threat from the sea due to the increasingly later freeze of the protective permafrost that encircles the island. The traditions of this community, mostly of Inuit origin, are just as much under threat as the precarious strip of land. The images in the book are informed with essays by geographers and environmentalists.

Lixenberg’s trademark is a 4×5 camera and tripod. This gives an intensity of experience between the photographer and those she photographs that she feels is not there with other types of cameras. She enjoys illustrating contrast in her work and portraying people in pure form.


Dana Lixenberg (born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands,1964) lives and works in New York and Amsterdam. Lixenberg originally went to New York to become an au pair and then discovered photography at a night school class. She studied Photography at the London College of Printing in London (1984-1986) and at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam (1987-1989).

Her breakthrough in the U.S. came in 1993, when she was awarded a project grant by the Fonds BKVB (The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture) for a series of portraits at the Imperial Courts Housing Project in Los Angeles,CA. She was soon getting commissions from a wide variety of magazines such as Vibe, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Newsweek and The Telegraph magazine amongst many others.

Lixenberg continuously worked on long term personal projects, mostly focused on individuals and communities on the margins of society. Lixenberg has been the recipient of several project and publication grants in the Netherlands.

  • 1999 she was the subject of a documentary titled: Dana Lixenberg, thru dutch eyes 
  • 2005 she was featured in an episode of the documentary series ‘Hollands Zicht’ (Dutch Vision) both for Dutch television.
  • 2005 Jeffersonville, Indiana was awarded Best Dutch Book Design,
  • 2008 The Last Days of Shishmaref, was also awarded Best Dutch Book Design, 2008.

Since 2008 Lixenberg has been revisiting the Imperial Courts Housing Project in Los Angeles for a follow up to the series from 1993. In spring 2015 Huis Marseille, Amsterdam will organize a large scale exhibition of Imperial Courts coinciding with the release of a publication.

Other work

Lixenberg photographs people from all social classes.

I’ve never taken a different  approach between photographing celebrities and un-known individuals,  The fragility of life is experienced by all. ..When shooting people who have had a lot of media exposure I’m not interested in reinforcing their public image. I try to really see the person that’s in front of me, the way they are at that particular moment stripped from all the surrounding distractions like their entourage and to slowly bring them to a place where they don’t present a persona basically where they don’t try to hard. 

In addition to ordinary people, Lixenberg has photographed a number of American celebrities, including Prince and Whitney Houston.

Lixenberg is also a film director and directed the Dutch singer Anouk’s 2005 video ‘One Word’


3: Landscape as Political Text Documentary Inspiration Landscape Review

Landscape as a Call to Action

Photography, and the manipulation of photographs, is often used to highlight and raise political questions. Landscape photography in particular is often used in environmental activism – images of environmental degradation, urban squalor. In NGO advertising (eg GreenPeace) photographs are often manipulated to juxtapose elements that are then countered by a caption.

  • Peter Kennard produces explicit political photomontage in the dadaist tradition linked to political campaigning organisations – for example his ‘Hay Wain with Cruise Missiles’ (1980)
  • Edward Burtynsky produces large-format photographs of industrial landscapes altered by industry – an ‘industrial sublime’ creating tension between awe-inspiring beauty and the compromised environments he depicts.
  • Mitch Epstein also uses large format, but less ‘beautiful’ images that do not aim to convey a specific message, and are more documentary in juxtaposing complex narratives.
  • Dana Lixenberg in works like the Last Days of Shishmaref uses landscape and portrait photography alongside working with environmentalists and local activists to produce powerful participatory social documentary.
  • Ikka Halso uses digital montage, including 3D, to build dystopian landscapes that raise questions about the ways in which human beings are attempting to control nature.

Exercise 3.4: A persuasive image

2: Landscape as Journey Inspiration Landscape

Land Art

‘Land art’  is a conceptually-based approach approach to making art that emerged in the 1970s. The nature of earth and land art requires the media of film and photography to document outcomes and incorporates aspects of performance art and sculpture.

Land Art: The focus is not on describing the place itself, but representing the artist’s experience of visiting or travelling to or through it.

  • Hamish Fulton
  • Richard Long
  • Christo wrapping’ works
  • Jeanne-Claude wrapping’ works

Earth art: involves direct intervention with, and often use of, the raw materials of a landscape (e.g. rocks, plants, mud), and is generally made or presented in situ. In Malcolm Andrews’ words:

“The work of the Earth Artists cannot easily be identified with this or that particular object which the hands of the artist have made, but more with the relationship between that object (sometimes a mere rearrangement of on-site stones, for instance, or a line drawn on the desert floor) and the otherwise untouched site. The ‘landscape art’ in this case is that relationship.” (Andrews, 1999, p. 204 q Alexander 2013 p71)

Robert Smithson (1938–73), celebrated for his Spiral Jetty (1970) which is almost 0.5km in length and extends into the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

In relation to photography this raises the possibilities of manipulating the scene – going beyond simply tidying up strands of grass or intruding branches to constructing images to photograph – along the lines of Mohammad Barouissa’s constructed scenarios of conflict based on research and then staged. One could envisage something similar for eg environmental issues, or simply aesthetic effect.

A further element used by some land artists, and also painters like Kurt Jackson, are words added to images – might be handwritten or typed in an appropriate font and overlaid in Photoshop. Or simply titling and putting alongside the image as a meta-narrative. This could complement or give ironic contrast to the image.

Project 2.5: Text in art