| || |
Front cover for Danny Lyon, 2019, Danny Lyon; Thirty Photographs 1962-1980, (Etherton Gallery)
Danny Lyon; Thirty Photographs 1962-1980
Introduction - Terry Etherton
When I first heard that the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art, were organizing a solo exhibition with Danny Lyon, it would be an understatement to say I was thrilled. Having had the privilege of working with Danny, one of the most important social documentary photographers of my generation, I relished the fact that he was finally receiving the recognition that comes with a major career retrospective. “Danny Lyon: Message to the Future,” premiered at the Whitney in June, 2016, with nearly 200 photographs from his multiple projects, audio, ephemera, objects, bulletin boards, and films. It was a great tribute to the photographer and his career. At the same time, it completed a circle for me and the artist, whose work I have loved and championed for more than four decades.
The Whitney show resulted in many reviews including this remarkable sentence: “In seven years he managed to produce a handful of the most iconic photographs of the late twentieth century.” Others wrote that then Lyon did something unprecedented in the history of photojournalism—in 1970 “he walked away from it all” and stopped making pictures. That I learned was not entirely true. What he “walked away from” was New York City when he moved into an unplastered adobe in a small New Mexico village that had no phone service. And though he then turned to filmmaking, he continued to make pictures of his new home, along the border, and throughout the American Southwest.
Three years after the retrospective and fast approaching what I see as significant milestones in my life—forty years as a gallerist and nearly seventy years old—I decided I wanted to publish a portfolio that would highlight the work of this influential artist and my unwavering passion for his work.
Thinking about and selecting photographs for this portfolio prompted me to reflect upon my career—which I more or less stumbled into. In 1969 at age eighteen, I was a naïve kid from Carbondale, Illinois, who was drafted into the U.S. Army. I survived infantry training and time in Germany, and came home with a GI bill to pay for my college education. From there it was a photography class, a teacher, and a photo book that launched me into a life and career I could not have imagined.
I found my way into a class called “The History of Photography,” taught by the newly arrived, inspiring photographer and teacher, Charles Swedlund. Swedlund regularly showed us new work he thought we should know about. I remember one day he said enthusiastically, “Now here’s an exciting new book.” With that he began to show slides of work by a photojournalist associated with what was called “The New Journalism.” The photographer’s name was Danny Lyon and the images were from his book, Conversations With the Dead, which was filled with drawings, images, and letters written in the first person about the segregated Texas prison system.
Not only had I never seen a book like this, I had never thought about the power of photography to narrate a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Danny’s book sparked something in me that would become my lifelong passion.
I soon changed my major to Cinema and Photography, and bought copies of both Conversations and The Bikeriders. Then in 1973, degree in hand, I packed my stereo and my photography books into my 1965 Volkswagen bus and launched myself west toward San Francisco State, where I completed a degree from the Center for Experimental and Interdisciplinary Art.
By then I had most of Danny’s books and I found out that San Francisco’s Simon Lowinsky Gallery, Danny’s first dealer, was having a Danny Lyon show. Since I had first seen Guns are passed to the picket tower, Ferguson Unit, a remarkable 1968 image from Conversations With the Dead, in Swedlund’s class, it had resonated with me. Determined to own it, I plunked down 20% of $400 and purchased it in slow installments. During the run of the show, Lowinsky called me and said Danny was going to be in town and offered to introduce me. It was 1975 and that meeting would set me on my now nearly forty-year career in business, and my relationship with Danny Lyon.
In 1981 I decided to open my own photography gallery and chose a small space in Tucson near the University of Arizona. The Center for Creative Photography, designed to house the archives of Ansel Adams and eventually many other giants in the photo world, was in close proximity and one of the reasons I chose Tucson as the place where I would open my gallery. The CCP was then, and continues to be, an invaluable resource for research, education, and inspiration. In 1982 I opened my second show at Etherton Gallery, a twenty-year retrospective and film festival called “Danny Lyon: 1962–1982.” The show had quite an impact on the community; prints were sold, Danny came and signed books, his films were screened at the University. In the years that followed I have had more than a dozen Danny Lyon exhibitions, including solo shows at art fairs in New York, Los Angeles, and Paris.
I have long wanted to publish a portfolio that reflected not only Danny Lyon’s contribution to the medium, but my respect and admiration for his depth of inquiry and broad range of completed projects. In 2019 the stars aligned, and “Danny Lyon: Thirty Photographs, 1962-1980” was born. Danny approved of and supported the concept; Jeff Kazansky, longtime friend and collector, generously backed the project; and Chuck Kelton, Danny’s printer for twenty-five years, printed 300 luminous, exacting silver prints. Cloverleaf Studio owner and artist, Jace Graf, whom I’ve worked with for at least fifteen years, signed on with his instinctive skills to create his handsome clamshell boxes and lettered pages. This project would not have been possible without their skills and support.
From his early work in Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, through The Bikeriders and Conversations With the Dead, to The Destruction of Lower Manhattan, Uptown Chicago, and his Southwest and Mexico portfolio, Danny Lyon has taught me and continues to teach me about the humanity and inhumanity all around us.
This story has not yet ended, but for now, these thirty photographs help provide a narrative for the story of my work and relationship with one of the great documentarians of our time. It is my hope that this portfolio will continue to teach, inspire, excite, and awe those who come after me—and Danny—in both work and in life.
I could not have pursued a life in photography without the support and patience of my wife, Mel, and son, Tim, who both understood and accepted the gallery as my second home. Thank you.
And of course, to DANNY LYON, my deepest thanks. It has been, and continues to be, an honor.
LIST OF PRINTS
01 Near Yuma, California, 1962
02 Clarksdale, Mississippi police, 1963
03 Bob Dylan behind the SNCC office, Greenwood, Mississippi, 1963
04 Arrest of Taylor Washington, Atlanta, 1963
05 The March on Washington, August 28, 1963
06 Uptown, Chicago, 1965
07 Uptown, Chicago, 1965
08 Route 12, Wisconsin, 1963
09 Racer, Schererville, Indiana, 1965
10 Jack, Chicago, 1965
11 Crossing the Ohio River near Louisville, 1966
12 Cal, Elkhorn, Wisconsin, 1966
13 Memorial Day Run, Milwaukee, 1966
14 82 Beekman Street, cast iron building, Lower Manhattan, 1967
15 Wall of the St. George Building, Lower Manhattan, 1967
16 View through the rear wall, 89 Beekman Street, Lower Manhattan, 1967
17 Self-portrait in an abandoned West Street hotel room, Lower Manhattan, 1967
18 Leslie, Knoxville, 1967
19 The Cotton Pickers, Ferguson Unit, Texas Department of Corrections, 1968
20 The Line, Ferguson Unit, Texas Department of Corrections, 1968
21 The Dominoes Players, Walls Unit, Texas Department of Corrections, 1968
22 Boss, Ellis Unit, Texas Department of Corrections, 1968
23 Guns are passed to the picket tower, Ferguson Unit, Texas Department of Corrections, 1968
24 Stephanie, Sandoval County, New Mexico, 1970
25 Llanito, New Mexico, 1970
26 Navajo Pool Room, Gallup, New Mexico, 1973
27 Johnnie Sanchez, Bernalillo, New Mexico, 1973
28 The Garay Family, Maricopa County, Arizona, 1973
29 Nancy, Gabrielle and Raphe, Llanito, August, 1979
30 IRT 2, New York City, 1980