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Black and White Photography by Danny Lyon

Danny Lyon

Danny Lyon is a self-taught American photographer and filmmaker. He was born in 1942 in Brooklyn, New York and is the son of Russian-Jewish mother Rebecca Henkin and German-Jewish father Ernst Fredrick Lyon. Danny was raised in Kew Gardens, Queens and went on to study history at the University of Chicago, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963.

That same year, he published his first photographs working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. His pictures appeared in The Movement, a documentary book about the Southern Civil Rights Movement.

Later, Lyon began creating his own books. His first, was a study of outlaw motorcyclists in the collection The Bikeriders (1967), where Lyon did more than just photograph motorcyclists in the American Midwest from 1963 to 1967. Additionally, he also became a member of the Chicago Outlaws motorcycle club and traveled with them, sharing their lifestyle. According to Lyon himself, the photographs were “an attempt to record and glorify the life of the American bikerider.” The series was immensely popular and influential in the 1960s and 1970s. During the 1970s, he also contributed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s DOCUMERICA project.

The Destruction of Lower Manhattan (1969) was Lyon’s next work, published by Macmillan Publishers in 1969. The book documents the large-scale demolition taking place throughout Lower Manhattan in 1967. Included are photographs of soon to be demolished streets and buildings, portraits of the neighborhood’s last remaining stragglers and pictures from within the demolition sites themselves. The book originally sold for one dollar each, but soon attained the status of a collector’s item. It was later reprinted in 2005.

Conversations with the Dead (1971), was published with full cooperation of the Texas Department of Corrections. Lyon photographed in six prisons over a fourteen month period in 1967 to 1968. The series was printed to book in 1971 by Holt publishing. The introduction of Lyon’s book points to a statement of purpose that the penal system of Texas is symbolic for incarceration everywhere. He states, “I tried with whatever power I had to make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality.”

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