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Conversations with the Dead
Danny Lyon


Dates: November 10, 2015 - January 2, 2016
Location: Etherton Gallery
135 S. Sixth Avenue
Gallery Hours: 11 - 5 Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment
Contact: info@ethertongallery.com, 624-7370

 

Etherton Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of photographer Danny Lyon’s masterwork, Conversations with the Dead opening with a reception, 7-10pm, November 14, 2015 and a book signing with the artist, 1-4pm, Sunday, November 15, 2015.

Seeking to make “a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality," Lyon spent fourteen months in 1967-68, photographing inmates at seven prisons in the Texas Department of Corrections. Poignant images of brutal working conditions, degrading shakedowns and the endless snaking lines to strip, eat, and work capture the bleak monotony of daily prison life. The project resulted in the groundbreaking 1971 publication, Conversations with the Dead: Photographs of Prison Life with the Letters and Drawings of Billy McCune #122054. Described by photographer and President of Magnum, Martin Parr as Lyon’s ‘masterpiece’ Conversations with the Dead remains “as powerful and relevant as ever” in light of America’s ever expanding system of mass incarceration.

The exhibition features a portfolio of 80 gelatin silver prints and represents Lyon’s own selection. It includes 76 images from the book and four unpublished images, which draw from his experiences at six prisons. The show coincides with the reissue of Conversations with the Dead (Phaidon, 2015), and to celebrate copies will be available at the gallery for a Danny Lyon book signing at 1-4pm, Sunday, November 15, 2015.This event is a rare opportunity for Tucsonans to meet one of the giants in 20th century documentary photography.

In 1967, when Danny Lyon made the drive from New York to Huntsville, Texas he had already established himself in photographic projects that documented and humanized outsiders, whether they were renegades from mainstream America (the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle club, 1963-67) or violently excluded by it (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee volunteers in the segregated south, 1962-64). Lyon was granted unrestricted access to the inmates by the Director of the Texas Department of Corrections, making Conversations with the Dead a unique accomplishment by contemporary standards in which journalists are often required to embed themselves in the very institutions they seek to investigate.

President of Etherton Gallery, Terry Etherton notes that, “For over 50 years Danny Lyon has helped expand our understanding of what photography could be, and the innovative projects he undertook in the 1960s –photographing the Civil Rights Movement, the Chicago Outlaws and the Texas Department of Corrections -- embody the roots of what we now call socially concerned photography.

Each prison that Lyon visited had a different mandate: Diagnostic processed new inmates entering the system; Ferguson, a prison farm housed young offenders, aged 17-21; The Walls was the oldest prison in the Texas prison system; Ramsey provided meager prison services to less intractable convicts; Ellis housed the most recalcitrant and dangerous prisoners on a large prison farm; and Wynne housed the elderly and mentally-ill. Lyon’s titles identify the men by their crime and sentence, which determined the way they were identified and categorized once they entered the penal system.
The pointedly dehumanizing titles contrast with photographs whose compassion returns the dignity of his subjects and achieve a compelling formal beauty. In image after image, whether depicting prisoners working “the line”, such as The Line, Ferguson Unit or two prisoners playing dominoes in Cell Block Table, The Walls, Lyon’s lyrical impulse blends with the humanism of Dorothea Lange and the uncompromising ethic of James Agee to produce unforgettable images that take root in your soul.

Etherton Gallery
Etherton Gallery is considered the premiere fine art photography gallery in the Southwest and is known for its extensive collection of vintage, classic and contemporary photography. The gallery participates in Classic Photographs LA, Paris Photo Los Angeles, and The AIPAD Photography Show and has long-standing relationships with museums, corporations and private collectors around the world. Etherton Gallery is located at 135 S. 6th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701.  For more information please contact Etherton Gallery at (520) 624-7370 or info@ethertongallery.com

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Press Contact:
Daphne Srinivasan, Hannah Glasston, Etherton Gallery
(520) 624-7370, (520) 270-3188, info@ethertongallery.com, daphne@ethertongallery.com

 

Danny Lyon (b. 1942)
One of the most original and influential documentary photographers of the post-war generation, Danny Lyon forged a new style of documentary photography, described in literary circles as "New Journalism," an unconventional, personal form of documentary in which the photographer immersed himself in his subject’s world.  A graduate of the University of Chicago, Lyon began his career in 1962 as the staff photographer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), covering and participating in Civil Rights marches.  His first important project was published as The Bikeriders (1967), and was based on four years spent on the road as a member of a motorcycle club known as the Chicago Outlaws, from 1963-1967. Lyon described the series as "an attempt to record and glorify the life of the American bikerider," whose golden years were receding as the sixties drew to a close. In 1971, Lyon published his best known work, Conversations with the Dead, which features photographs of six Texas prisons made over a period of fourteen-months, from 1967 to 1968. To make “a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality," Lyon juxtaposed his images with texts taken from prison records, interviews, inmates’ writings, (particularly the letters of Billy McCune, a convicted rapist), and even fiction.

Having established new models for both documentary photography and the photography book, Danny Lyon went on to become an influential documentary filmmaker, winning numerous grants and awards in both fields, including the 2015 Lucie Award for Achievement in Documentary Photography. Over the course of his career, he has published more than 20 books of photography and exhibited his photographs widely. He is the subject of a travelling career retrospective opening at the Whitney Museum of American Art in June 2016. Danny Lyon’s work is in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the American Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institute, the J. Paul Getty Museum and many other public institutions.