Some images are so ingrained in the cultural memory that it’s easy to forget where they originated, but with a New York gallery exhibition dedicated to her work, one seminal ‘90s photographer is getting her due.
Dutch-born photographer Dana Lixenberg is perhaps best known for her iconic portraits of late rap stars Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., the former taken for a fledgling Vibe magazine in 1993 and the latter for the same publication three years later – both indelible images that have traversed the world via clothes, murals, memes, and fan art. Now the artist behind the lens is taking center stage with an exhibit called American Images, on display through 29 February at the Bowery outpost of Amsterdam’s GRIMM gallery.
Featuring an array of intimate portraits of American icons, from Jon Bon Jovi and Mary J. Blige to Allen Ginsberg and Toni Morrison, the exhibit illustrates Lixenberg’s stripped-down approach, facilitated by her use of a large-format field camera, “a cumbersome tool which requires the photographer to undertake a precise number of steps,” as the exhibition notes on the gallery’s website explain. “These steps and the concentration they require make for what Lixenberg refers to as a slow dance between her and her subjects. The resulting photographs contain an enormous amount of detail and texture, and are as revelatory as an intimate, personal encounter.”
To coax her famous subjects into letting down their guard, Lixenberg relied on two skillsets: her patience and her professionalism. For the shoot with Tupac, “I was very serious and I didn’t let myself get distracted by all the noise surrounding Tupac and the entourage,” she told Rob Kenner, one of Vibe’s founding editors, for her book Tupac Biggie. “I’m always thrilled when you can kind of win someone over by just being really professional and being really focused…. With the shooting, I find it’s very intimate because you have this moment you share with the person. You meet so many people, especially with celebrities, but it all comes down to that exchange between you and the subject.”
For more information on the exhibition, visit grimmgallery.com.