Danny Lyon: The Bikeriders

October 3, 2012 |

Racer, Schererville, Indiana, © Danny Lyon, gelatin silver print courtesy Etherton Gallery.

Downtown Tucson’s venerable Etherton Gallery maintains its unwavering commitment to the presentation of photographic excellence with the 2012-2013 season’s first exhibit, Danny Lyon: The Bikeriders. On Friday, October 5, Lyon’s film The Murderers will be shown at the “Hidden Cinema of the Southwest and Mexico” symposium held at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. Terry Etherton treasures his long friendship with the photographer, dating back to 1975 in San Francisco. In fact, Etherton Gallery’s second show ever was a twenty-year (1962-1982) retrospective of Danny Lyon’s work. Etherton says that since the gallery began more than thirty years ago, his best-selling photographer has been Danny Lyon.

At only 21, Danny Lyon emerged from the University of Chicago in 1963 with a B.A. in History and plunged right into the turbulent maelstrom of the time—marching against segregation and photographing the civil rights movement as staff photographer for SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). He was in a jail cell next to (and photographed) Martin Luther King. Launched from such a potent combination of societal chaos, imminent change and rebellion, his complete immersion in the lives of his subjects almost guaranteed that he would invent a unique personal form of documentary photography.

From those first images of the civil rights marches to the recent Occupy movements on both coasts, from his travels with the bikers, his visits to prisons and slums, to people’s homes and businesses, he has used his camera, atypically for a journalist—he characterizes it as “advocacy journalism”—to attend to the everyday, ordinary and extraordinary doings of humanity, whether alone or in groups, on the streets, in their homes, in prisons, even most recently in China. Mostly in black and white, his compositions are riveting in their seeming simplicity, directness and an engrossing, compelling sense of connection. He wrote, in the introduction to his Memories of Myself (2009), “I wanted to change history and preserve humanity. But in the process I changed myself and preserved my own.”

Photos left to right, All photos © Danny Lyon, courtesy Etherton Gallery; Sparky and Cowboy (Gary Rogues), Schererville, Indiana; Memorial day run, Milwaukee; Route 12, Wisconsin.

The Bikeriders “heralded the arrival of a new, more personal form of documentary photography that would influence a generation of photographers including Larry Clark and Nan Goldin,” to quote Etherton’s press release. Lyon rode his Triumph with a Chicago biker gang, the Outlaws, recording the intimate details of their lives. The motorcycle counterculture that was an inspiration for the film Easy Rider thus became, because of him, a permanent part of American mythology.

Having published (over a span of 43 years) an impressive 20 books, the beyond-prolific Lyon obviously has embraced his vocation with fierce dedication. He can hardly have had time to take a breath between projects, which have included (after the 1968 The Bikeriders) such disparate themes and titles as Destruction of Lower Manhattan, Conversations with the Dead, Like a Thief’s Dream, and in 2011, Deep Sea Diver: An American Photographer’s Journey in Shanxi, China. He’s also made 13 films, been the subject of over 50 solo exhibitions and is the recipient of many grants and awards from the likes of the Guggenheim  Foundation and the NEA, to name only a few. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Art Institute, Boston, MA.

On October 6, from 1-5pm, Lyon will be signing the republished The Bikeriders (it has been reprinted several times) at Etherton.

 Etherton Gallery is located at 135 S. 6th Ave., online at ethertongallery.com and 624-7370. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 11am to 5pm and by appointment.

Category: Arts