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danny lyon's lens cuts through the homogeneity of american life

The legendary photographer captures the misery and optimism of disenfranchised communities in a large-scale exhibition at the Whitney museum.

by Hannah Ongley
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17 June 2016, 12:05pm

It's been a long time since a Danny Lyon retrospective took place, but that doesn't mean the Queens-born photographer has been letting his camera collect dust. From documenting the civil rights protests, biker gangs, and squalid tattoo parlours of the late 60s to capturing the bleak beauty of disenfranchised communities from Oakland (where Occupy protesters eat off paper plates in crowded tents) to China (where miners glean coal from the train tracks of Datong), at 74, Lyon is as immersed in the stories of social outcasts and outsiders as ever. These more recent photographs are now being combined with archival ones to form Danny Lyon: Message to the Future. The massive exhibition of approximately 175 photos opens at the new Whitney Museum of American Art this weekend. 

Danny Lyon, "Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland," 2011. Collection of the artist. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York.

The exhibition will also include three rare videos, absorbing viewers in a form of expression that Lyon found himself drawn to when he returned home after six years of following the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club. These videos include a 21-minute portrait of the late great tattoo artist Bill Sanders and his "painless" tattoo studio, a 15-minute one of the sculptor Mark di Suvero, and an 82-minute documentary detailing the past and present of prisoner Willie Jaramillo. Willie combines footage of the repeat minor offender's early life with powerful scenes of his penitentiary's worst jail cells. Danny and Nancy Weiss Lyon gained exclusive access to the prison to portray its inhabitants with an immediacy that still photography could never fully facilitate. 

Danny Lyon, Bill Sanders, Tattoo Artist, Houston, Texas, 1968. Collection of the artist. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Danny Lyon, Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville, 1966. Vintage gelatin silver print. Silverman Museum Collection. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Danny Lyon, John Lennon and Danny Seymour, The Bowery, New York, 1969. Collection of the artist. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Danny Lyon, "Leslie, Downtown Knoxville," 1967. Vintage gelatin silver print. Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Mr. Danny Lyon. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Danny Lyon, Maricopa County, Arizona, 1977. Vintage gelatin silver print. Collection of the artist. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Danny Lyon, "Occupy Demonstration on Broadway, Los Angeles," 2011. Collection of the artist. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Danny Lyon, "Shakedown at Ellis Unit, Texas," 1968. Vintage gelatin silver print. Museum of Modern Art. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Danny Lyon, "Weight lifters, Ramsey Unit, Texas," 1968. Vintage gelatin silver print. Collection of the artist. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

"Danny Lyon: Message to the Future" runs from June 17 through September 25, 2016 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Credits


Text Hannah Ongley
Images courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art