About Danny Lyon and His Work:
Self-taught in photography, Danny Lyon studied history at the University of Chicago, where he received a BA in 1963. That same year he joined the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee as a photographer documenting the U.S. civil-rights movement.
Since that time, Lyons has gained recognition as a photographer, filmmaker, and writer. His talents have been acknowledged by the Guggenheim Foundation, which awarded him a fellowship in photography in 1969 and another, in film, a decade later; by one-person exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, NY, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona; and by numerous publications and awards.
The 123 works in the Bell Gallery collection are taken from two of Lyon’s best-known works: The Bikeriders and Conversations with the Dead. Working in the style called “New Journalism” — that is, by immersing himself and becoming a participant in a giving subject — Lyon photographed motorcyclist in the midwest from 1963 and 1967. He became a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club, traveled with them, and shared their lifestyle. The series, described by Lyon as “an attempt to record and glorify the life of the American bikerider,” was immensely popular and influential in the 1960s and 1970s.
The images in Conversations with the Dead document life within the Texas prison system. With the full cooperation of the Texas Department of Corrections, Lyon photographed in six prisons over a fourteen-month period in 1967 and 1968. The series was first published as a book in 1971 by Holt. Lyon’s introduction stresses his belief that the penal system in Texas is no better or worse than those in other parts of the US and ends with a statement of purpose: “I tried with whatever power I had to make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality . . . ” Lyon befriended many of the prisoners. The 1971 publication includes texts taken from prison records and convicts writings, particularly the letters of Billy McCune, a convicted rapist whose death sentence was commuted to life in prison.
Works in the Bell Gallery collection are from the 1983 edition of Conversations with the Dead, published by RFG Publishing, Inc., NY. The 76 photographs in the bound book were printed by a commercial lab and signed and numbered by the artist. The book is designed so that each photograph can be removed for display. The collection copy is artist proof VIII from an edition of 50 plus 12 artist’s proofs.
The Bikeriders and Conversations with the Dead are a gift of Richard S. Press (Brown ’60) and Jeanne L. Press. (bio)