Danny Lyon: Pictures from the New World
February 27, 1982 - May 2, 1982In 1962 Danny Lyon, armed with a camera, set off like thousands of his contemporaries on a voyage of discovery across America. He was a born wanderer and fearless observer who developed into an extraordinary recorder of the tumultuous events of the 1960s and '70s. A speech given by John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, convinced Lyon to join the civil rights movement, where he became the SNCC's first staff photographer. His photographs of conditions inside a Virginia stockade, where black teen-age girls had been illegally jailed, became part of the Congressional Record. Lyon later was granted permission to spend 14 months photographing the Texas Department of Corrections. His visual record of inmates suffering from heat exhaustion in the fields, stripping for frequent shakedowns, and relaxing in the cellblocks was such a moving indictment of prison conditions that the photographs were called into evidence by the federal Department of Justice on behalf of the inmates. Danny Lyon was inevitably attracted to the estranged and the disposed, the outcast and the outlaw. In his search for a freedom of spirit he felt had all but disappeared, he sought out those who had escaped or had never been a part of the middle-class complacency he saw stifling America. On joining the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club, he produced a rare documentary of a renegade band racing on dirt tracks, working on their machines, riding with their women, burying their dead. After 20 years of searching for the American spirit, the artist came full circle back to his birthplace, New York. His latest photographs were made on the subways of the city he has come to consider "the spiritual heart of our democracy." This display of some 130 works forms an unusual autobiography of an artist who shows an intense and profound identification with his subjects.
Michael E. Hoffman