Art and usual life are inextricably linked with each other, but as a rule, every artist finds inspiration in something. For photographer Danny Lyon the inspiration is the lives of ordinary people.
“Give me the camera. I want to get next to people. But not just to come close to him or to penetrate deeper into their experiences — I need all at once” – he said.
As a photographer, Lyon is known primarily for a series of documentary works that he made in the 1960s, even before his thirtieth birthday. Concerned about the fate of the marginalized sections of society and convinced that the camera needs to be the mirror of truth, Lyon captured the photo of the demonstration in defense of civil rights in the South, the adventures of a Chicago metalandi, as well as the everyday life of the Texas prisoners. On the basis of these photographs were published books, which are today being hunted by collectors around the world. Selected works from each series — a total of 175 photographs — became the basis for new promising exhibition titled “Danny Lyon: message to the Future”, situated under the roof of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
And yet, the real discovery of the exhibition are three previously unavailable to the public documentary. To this genre is the lion turned in the early 60’s, when I felt that traditional photography is no longer sufficient for its expression. The earliest of these films, “Soc. Sci. 127” (1969). It’s a fascinating twenty-minute portrait of the artist tattoo Bill Sanders. The story begins with the scene in which Sanders, dressed in a suit and tie, reads to the students a lecture of the history of tattoos. This scene was conceived by Lyon as the funny sketch. Then the viewer finds himself in a dirty workshop Sanders, watching as he fills the tattoo on the male buttocks, and then draws a sketch of a flower on a naked female breast, simultaneously letting go of half-drunk comments on politics and sex. Overweight, sweaty and repulsive, the hero looks like a huge toad out of a fairy tale with a sad end. But Lyon showed him with such tenderness and generosity that Sanders is impossible not to fall in love with.
Another film — “Dear Mark” (1981) is a fifteen-minute black-and-white portrait of the sculptor Mark di Suvero, a close friend of Lyon. The film consists of archival footage, taken in the 1960 and 70 years, which shirtless di Suvero heroically brings to life one of his monumental ideas. The action ends with the image of the medieval armor display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To achieve a comic effect as the background sound used in the soundtrack to one of the old movies performed by Gene Autry.
And finally, the best of the three — “Willie” (1985). The duration of this documentary film is 82 minutes. It tells the story of a would-be recidivist Jaramillo Willie. Willie was a member of a criminal gang of teenagers in the district of Bernalillo, New Mexico, where Lyon and his family lived in the 1970s. The film is a cut constantly alternating black-and-white and color scenes. On the first early footage of lion has captured loitering around teenagers, on the other taken later and in color — adult Jaramillo. Lyon spoke with him and was filming material for the film right through the prison bars of those corrections, in which his character regularly got for disorderly conduct and other illegal activities. The film also contains short interviews with other inmates, many of whom are far from exceptional individuals. Meet in it, and scenes shot outside the prison. One of them Jaramillo in some boxer shorts sitting on the river embankment under the highway branch, Smoking, drinking beer and thinking about life. Suddenly he with genuine seriousness starts to sing the hymn ‘The Old Ragged Cross’, which undoubtedly is the most beautiful and simultaneously the most touching moment in the film. It is the “Willie” allows to understand why the lion decided to move away from traditional photography — after all, no matter how skillfully performed, neither was the, the subject still remains silent and static. The famous pictures of racial conflicts Lyon did in the early 60s when I was travelling in the South of the country, together with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Among them clashes between police and black men and women, clashes between whites and blacks by the pool reserved for whites, and even obscene gestures to police, made right in the camera lens Lyon. But after watching movies of Lyon, you can imagine how much more powerful would these pictures, be they moving picture and sound. So is the case with the Chicago gang motorcycle Chicago Motorcycle Club, taken in the mid 60s. “Travelling gang members across America, reads a Museum sign, Lyon wanted to show their way of life from within.” But the pictures of bikers and their girlfriends, dressed in worn jeans, surprisingly not enough of cruelty and violence characteristic of such gangs at the time”.
If already anticipating the boundaries of photography, Lyon taped conversations of the gang members, and included these transcripts in his most famous book called ‘The Bikeriders’, published in 1968. Although journalist Hunter S. Thompson in his novel “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs”, written two years earlier, was able to show the world of biker gangs much more dark and dangerous. The exhibition presents interviews with Kathy, the mother of three children and wife of one of the members of a motorcycle gang, and the rest of the heroes of the project, among whom was a transgender woman originally from Galveston, Texas, nicknamed “Sweet Renee”. For his photo project about the lives of Texas prisoners Lyon had to get permission from local Department of corrections, whereby he not only was able to visit the prison, but gained access to the prison journals and letters of prisoners. But despite this, he still failed to convey all the shades of cruelty, depravity and madness behind the walls of such institutions.
Photos in which inmates perform corrective work under the supervision of armed guards, and then subjected to close inspection, as a series of individual portraits of inmates behind bars for the cameras, talking about the infinite cruelty of the prison world. But a deep empathy and desire to elevate their heroes allowed the rider to achieve a paradoxical effect: places like this are brought before the viewer’s eyes less violent and horrific. Another series of photos of the master – “The Destruction of Lower Manhattan”. This is just a series of still images taken by Lyon in 1966 and 1967, when a large number of old buildings were demolished to make way for the building of the World Trade Center. In these photos, Lyon captured the empty spaces and attics, as if inhabited by ghosts of former owners. As the pictures of the ancient architecture of Paris by Eugène Atget, Lyon imbued with a sad and pensive mood, presenting a poetry of silence and loss. Now Danny Lyon already 74, but he’s still not left the picture. Over the past forty years he traveled to many places, photographing the street kids in Colombia, representatives of the “aggressive” movement in Oakland and Los Angeles, miners in China. All works presented at the exhibition, reliably indicate loyalty and compassion Lyon to the most alienated members of our society.