The Menil Collection, Houston
Through July 29
Danny Lyon was always a rebel, said Jeffrey Ladd in Time.com. Back in the early 1960s, when certain peers were “snubbing their noses” at traditional photojournalism, Lyon found a way of practicing it on his own terms. In his words, his mission was “to destroy Life magazine,” by countering its anodyne imagery with arresting portraits of another America. This retrospective relives his every move, beginning with the images of racial strife he captured in the Deep South while working as the staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. One famous 1963 work, Clarksdale, Mississippi Police, shows a handful of local lawmen lollygagging under a tree and greeting the gaze of Lyon’s camera with obscene gestures. Others could capture “the poetry of the streets.” Lyon wanted to change the world.
He was just getting started, said Tyler Rudick in CultureMap.com. In the middle of the ’60s, Lyon documented the demolition of the neighborhood that was cleared to create the World Trade Center, then joined a notorious motorcycle gang, the Chicago Outlaws, as a way to capture their world. Next came perhaps his most famous project—the book Conversations With the Dead, an inside look at Texas prisons. This time, Lyon believed that he could destroy the penal system with his images, only to watch the U.S. population behind bars multiply instead. But at 70, Lyon hasn’t noticeably slowed down, making it his business to document the Occupy Wall Street movement and to continue photographing the marginalized. The social consciousness in his work makes a photograph like 2011’s Men Drying Clothes, Bernalillo, NM “as charged and relevant” as the images with which he made his name.