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Danny Lyon
Conversations with the Dead

It is one thing to read about the disgrace of American penology, and quite another thing to see it for yourself.
In 1967, Danny Lyon turned his camera toward life in American prisons. Conversations with the Dead reflects fourteen months he spent looking and listening in six Texas penitentiaries.
Freed to enter the prisons at any time of day or night, Lyon moved among the prisoners as they functioned in groups, and as they existed in isolation. He photographed men in their cells, in the fields, working, eating, daydreaming, passing so much time. Befriending them, he records the personal testimonies of their lives and the official documents which condemn them to a living death.
In the course of his unprecedented journey through the Texas prisons, Lyon met Billy McCune. At forty-two, McCune had already served eighteen years of a life sentence. He is a monument to the human spirit: a survivor of wretchedness unbounded; a victor over despair so great that he castrated himself. Billy McCune’s paintings and writings reveal a compassionate consciousness which confounds the “justice” which brands him a “criminal.”
This shattering portrait of oppression and futility must be recognized as a plea to American Society – the ultimate warden of all of our prisons.
As photojournalism, Conversations with the Dead easily stands besides such books as James Agee’s and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Erskine Caldwell’s and Margaret Bourke-White’s Have You Seen Their Faces.[1] 

  1. Λ From the jacket liner to Conversations with the Dead, (Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1971 and Phaidon Press, 2015) 



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