“I started out trying to become a documentary photographer, but then something else happened.”
—Danny Lyon, 2011
This World Is Not My Home: Danny Lyon Photographs, an exhibition of approximately 45 photographs and photographic montages, traces the evolution of the New York and New Mexico-based artist’s career from 1962 to the present. A leading and explosively creative figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon distinguished himself from peers like Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, and Lee Friedlander through his exceptionally strong political consciousness and concern for those on the margins of society.
Drawn from the artist’s studio and the Menil’s collection of 246 of Lyon’s photographs, the exhibition features images from important bodies of work, including, among other subjects, his early studies of Midwestern motorcycle gangs, the civil rights movement, and death row inmates in Texas prisons. To make these affecting, intimate images, Lyon was both a participant and an observer. He got to know his subjects and often captured their stories in highly descriptive, opinionated texts as well as in photographs. Lyon rode with bikers, marched against segregation with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and spent hours inside the notorious death row “Walls Unit” of Huntsville Prison. His goal, he said, was “to destroy Life magazine"—to present powerful, real alternatives to the hollow pictures and stories permeating mass media in America.
Throughout his long and prolific career, Lyon has combined an eye for beautiful compositions with passionate interest in political struggle and change. This World will include photographs from all periods of the artist’s career as well as images from a new series made in rural China, where that country’s economic boom is causing profound changes, and a number of the recent montage works in which the artist arranges old and new photographs to create poetic reflections on memory, family, and the transience of life.
This World Is Not My Home celebrates the artist’s 70th birthday and the extraordinary gift to the museum of 75 important photographs from the 1960s by Edmund Carpenter and Adelaide de Menil in 2010. Curated by Toby Kamps, the Menil’s curator of modern and contemporary art, the exhibition also recognizes Lyon’s deep and sustained relationship with Texas, Houston, and the Menil Collection. In Houston, where he briefly lived, Lyon met museum co-founder Dominique de Menil, who provided crucial moral support for his work as well as funding for a film about homeless orphans in Columbia entitled Los Niños Abandonados (The Abandoned Children), 1975. This film, recently restored, is being presented in a special screening during the exhibition.
This exhibition is generously supported by Michael Zilkha, David and Anne Kirkland, Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray, H-E-B, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and the City of Houston.
Photos: Paul Hester