Photojournalist Danny Lyon delivered a sharp critique of the media, explained the main goal of his career, and reminisced about his work on the civil rights movement, motorcycle gangs and Texas prisoners at a rare public appearance last week. Lyon was the
Lyon is a journalist, but not by the usual '90s definition. Whether he was photographing the Civil Rights Movement in the American South in the '60s or the guerrilla uprising in Mexico in the '90s, his journalism is not about the surface, the sensational, the soundbite; it is imbued with his respect for the people he photographs, and with the commitment and responsibility this respect entails. Now, in his collages, Lyon has come up with an emotional kind of journalism exploring classes and cultures and the options that people are allowed. Claiming the same credibility for his personal images as for his more conventional documentary pictures, he has made some of his most political and most moving work to date.
AMERICANSUBURB X: THEORY: “The End of the Age of Photography by Danny Lyon (2007)”:
Many years ago I was being driven along central park west in a NYC Taxi and talking with Robert Frank whom I sat beside. When I spoke of using words with photography, texts, as part of what were then called “photography books”, Robert said, “well, then that’s the end of it.” . The year was 1969, and it was “not the end of it.” As a young photographer, deep into a career of making picture books, with texts, I couldn’t help but feel that Frank’s comment smacked a bit of kicking out the ladder. After all, the work of Frank that had stunned the world was a virtually wordless portrait of America, done with a Leica and a couple lenses.1
Thirty six years have passed since that conversation in a taxi cab, and as I sit here
at the east end of Long Island, watching my fishing boat “the Nanook” bob and dip at its moorings, pounded by strong southwest winds, I wonder if I am recreating Frank’s error with what I am now writing.
At a time when picture magazines were still a holy grail for young photographers, Danny Lyon, self-taught, began his career as the first staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. A week after hitchhiking south in 1962 at the age of 20 he was in jail with other protesters in Albany, Ga., next to the cell of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And Mr. Lyon’s first book, the classic “Bikeriders,” made after spending more than two years as a member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, was not just a pioneering example of New Journalism but, as he later described it, an attempt “to destroy Life magazine” and what he saw as its anodyne vision of American life.