Danny Lyon, born in 1942, is one of the most original and influential documentary photographers of the post-war generation. He forged a new style of documentary photography, described in literary circles as “New Journalism,” an unconventional, personal form of documentary in which the photographer immersed himself in his subject’s world.
A graduate of the University of Chicago, Lyon began his career in 1962 as the staff photographer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), covering and participating in Civil Rights marches. His first important project was published as The Bikeriders (1967), and was based on four years spent on the road as a member of a motorcycle club known as the Chicago Outlaws, from 1963-1967. Lyon described the series as “an attempt to record and glorify the life of the American bikerider,” whose golden years were receding as the sixties drew to a close. In 1971, Lyon published his best known work, Conversations with the Dead, which features photographs of six Texas prisons made over a period of fourteen-months, from 1967 to 1968. To make “a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality,” Lyon juxtaposed his images with texts taken from prison records, interviews, inmates’ writings, (particularly the letters of Billy McCune, a convicted rapist), and even fiction. Described by photographer and President of Magnum, Martin Parr as Lyon’s ‘masterpiece’ Conversations with the Dead remains “as powerful and relevant as ever” in light of America’s ever expanding system of mass incarceration. Other important projects included in the portfolio include Uptown Chicago (1965), Tesca (1966), The Destruction of Lower Manhattan (1966-67), Haiti (1986) and The Southwestern Portfolio: New Mexico and Mexico (1967-1983).
Having established new models for both documentary photography and the photography book, Danny Lyon went on to become an influential documentary filmmaker, winning numerous honors and awards in both fields, including Guggenheim Fellowships in both film and photography, and the 2015 Lucie Award for Achievement in Documentary Photography. Over the course of his career, he has published more than 20 books of photography and been the subject of over fifty solo exhibitions. He was the subject of a travelling career retrospective, Danny Lyon: Message to the Future that opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2016 and completed its tour at the Berlin Foundation, Germany in December 2017.
Danny Lyon’s work is in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, American Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institute, the J. Paul Getty Museum and many other public institutions. Lyon lives and works in New Mexico.