There aren't too many images that you can remember with your eyes closed. A few months ago I remembered the stark black and white image of a young black man in a chair with a solid grey sweater looking strikingly at the camera.
What was that image? Touissant, by Dana Lixenberg. And I started to do breakdown why I would remember this image among all the thousand of images that crosses my screen and mind.
There's the way he's seated, at ease with the situation and the person looking at him. There's the way he looks at the camera and the photographer, he's open and aware of the situation. And there is the fabulous texture throughout the scene: in his sweater, hair, sheen from sweat.
Compositionally all the lines in the building lead towards the subject and nearly all the contrast in the scene occurs in his face and hands, strategically spaced at different diagonals across the screen.
But if there is one thing that makes the image unforgettable for me it's his gaze. Touissant's gaze is heavy and bleary. His eyes look through whatever is behind the camera to the issue he's wrestling at the moment. And for Dana Lixenberg, who would be 30 at the time, had found herself in a housing project in Watts, CA, seeking out communities and people who weren't being photographed and putting in a light that contradicted what the narrative of the time.
Lastly, there isn't the feel of "the other" that I sometimes feel from Walker Evans and Robert Frank. Dana is not traveling through these people communities onto her next shot or project, she is with them and present. The project itself would last over a decade and be culminated in Imperial Courts, which collects the images she took in Watts during those years. It's something I need to get my hands on and study. She's able to do something I hope I can with my photography, to break down complex situations and feelings of a time into scenes we can all understand and relate too.