Danny Lyon’s ‘Message to the Future’ Written Across the Faces of Generations

Danny Lyon, 'Shakedown, Ellis Unit, Texas,' 1968. (© Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York)

There’s plenty of openings to chose from in the Bay Area both today and tomorrow if you want to make it a white wine-and-white walls kind of weekend. But only one of those exhibitions includes indelible images of the civil rights movement, Texas prison life, biker gangs, migrant workers and the demolition of lower Manhattan.

Danny Lyon, 'Clifford Vaughs, another SNCC photographer, is arrested by the National Guard, Cambridge, Maryland,' 1964.
Danny Lyon, 'Clifford Vaughs, another SNCC photographer, is arrested by the National Guard, Cambridge, Maryland,' 1964. (© Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York)

All this and more is on view in Danny Lyon: Message to the Future, opening Nov. 5 at San Francisco’s de Young museum. Like Bruce Conner, Lyon’s name conjures different associations to different people. Whether that's "Magnum photographer," "independent filmmaker" or "social documentarian," all of Lyon’s images are distinguished by a tangible intimacy with his subjects. He sustains long-term relationships with many of the people he photographs; more often than not, his titles bear their names.

Danny Lyon, 'Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland,' 2011.
Danny Lyon, 'Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland,' 2011. (© Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York)

Lyon’s copious talent and seemingly inexhaustible drive to document life on the other side of his lens could fill some viewers with jealous regret for their own accomplishments (or lack thereof). I prefer an alternate reaction. In Lyon’s unvarnished images of the disenfranchised -- from Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee demonstrations to prison yard shakedowns -- I see a powerful reminder to head to the polls on Nov. 8, and to write our own message to the future.

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Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is on view Nov. 5, 2016–April 30, 2017 at the de Young in San Francisco. Tickets and more information here.

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