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Danny Lyon…

09/14/2009
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Well, in response to Jared’s post about Paul Graham, it’s only fair to give our other esssayist, Danny Lyon, biography space too…

Danny Lyon, Self Portrait“Among a group of revolutionaries whose work rose to prominence in the late 1960s and ’70s and transformed the nature of documentary photography — a group that includes friends and colleagues of Mr. Lyon’s like Mary Ellen Mark and Larry Clark — the idea of conscience has been imbedded more deeply in Mr. Lyon’s photographs than in those of all but a few of his contemporaries.”

A self-taught American photographer, Danny Lyon studied history at the University of Chicago, where he graduated in 1963, Though according to Lyon he was a “…bike rider, photographer, and history student…probably in that order.” He began his work on his first series about the outlaw motorcycle club, while living amongst them for two years.

“…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.

Boy in StreetcarBoys with Slingshots

His newest book, “Memories of Myself,” published this month by Phaidon Press, seems on its face to be the kind of comfortable, coffee-table retrospective that a revered 67-year-old artist receives at this point in his life…

It is a selection of self-assigned — and largely unpublished — photo essays that he made while wandering from Chicago to Galveston, Tex., to Brooklyn to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, over almost four decades. But even this book is a product of political calculus, as Mr. Lyon described it. He has been traveling for many years to photograph a remote, impoverished region of China with a book in mind but with little idea of who would be interested in it.

“It’s not always easy to get these things published,” he said. “I’m pretty uncompromising and not very commercial.” So when Phaidon approached him a few years ago with the idea of a career survey, he offered a deal. “I basically said, ‘If you do the China book, you can do the retrospective.’ ” (Phaidon, which does not comment on its negotiations with authors, would say only that it plans to publish two books by Mr. Lyon, in addition to “Memories of Myself,” calling him a “great photographer.”)

It is the kind of bargain Mr. Lyon has been striking his whole life, especially during years when he was supporting a family of four while insisting on making the kind of work he wanted to make, a stubborn vision that has probably contributed to his photographs and independent films not being better known. Even now, with his work in important museum collections around the country, a survivor’s hustle remains and sometimes still comes in handy: a few weeks ago, at his dentist’s office in Albuquerque, he traded a nice print for a root canal. “The market has taken a body blow, and I needed the dental work,” he explained, adding, “I was so happy to do it.”

Read the rest of Lyn’s interview with the NYtimes here.  and check him out over at blogger here. (his username is Dektol)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jared Ragland permalink*
    09/14/2009 22:09

    Thanks Daniel for making the playing field even. Fantastic post.

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