Danny Lyon took after his father. The elder Lyon, a German Jewish doctor named Ernst who moved to Brooklyn before WWII to escape the Nazis, filled volume after volume with snapshots of everyday life. And so his son grew up shooting photos, too. When Danny eventually took up leftist politics as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced snick) at the University of Chicago, he became the committees official photojournalist, documenting '60s civil-rights marches in the South.
Lyons relentlessly socially conscious work has an affinity with poor folks and outsiders sit-in protesters, hillbilly kids in Chicagos rough Uptown neighborhood, bikers, street prostitutes in Colombia, Lower East Side New York tenement dwellers, sugar-cane cutters in Mexico, Bolivian Indians, convicts and books flow out of him in a steady stream. In The Bikeriders (1968) he backed his stark, candid black and whites of Midwestern outlaw bikers with transcribed texts of their stories about themselves. The Destruction of Lower Manhattan (1969, republished by powerHouse in 2005) is Lyons personal account of the mid-'60s urban renewal of New York City's oldest neighborhoods, which vanished along with their unique melting-pot culture. His 1971 Conversations with the Dead is considered a landmark portrait of American prison life.
Lyons latest volume, Like a Thief's Dream (powerHouse, $29.95), is a departure for him in that the photos take a backseat to his true-crime reporting on the story of James Ray Renton, a career criminal who escaped from an Arkansas penitentiary in the 1980s and made the FBIs Most Wanted list before being recaptured.
Sunday afternoon (3:30-6:30 p.m.) at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, Lyon makes a rare Bay Area appearance to read from the new book, and also to screen two of his highly personal films: Murderers (2005), a documentary series of encounters with violent offenders set to music by Von Gluck and Bach; and Two Fathers (2004), a free-form tribute to his father intercut with Lyons own home movies. The lecture and films should be of particular interest to photographers, says Ken Light of the J-schools Center for Photography. Its a great opportunity to see both his worlds. Lyon has a commitment to photograph in the world around him, and hes very prolific. The event is open to the public, but the $12 tickets must be purchased in advance from Fotovision.org.
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