Danny Lyon: Message to the Future

By Julian Cox, Elisabeth Sussman, Alexander Nemerov, Danica Willard Sachs, Ed Halter, and Alan Rinzler

Book jacket featuring photo collage with "Danny Lyon Message to the Future" text

A photographer, filmmaker, and writer who came of age in the 1960s, Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942) has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects. Concerned primarily with social and political issues and the welfare of individuals considered on the margins of society, Lyon in his early career made photographic records of the civil rights movement, biker subcultures in the Midwest, the lives of inmates in the Texas prison system, and the architectural destruction of Lower Manhattan. These projects were accompanied by books, each of which has become a classic in the field. After moving from New York City in 1970, Lyon settled in New Mexico and has since explored a broad range of subjects. His photography is paralleled by his work as a writer and a filmmaker, through which he has reinvented the expectations for how the still photographic image can be woven into journalism, books, and films to present a record of social customs and human behavior.

This catalogue accompanies a long-overdue retrospective exhibition, organized in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The social and intellectual context for Lyon’s work is addressed in depth here by Julian Cox, Elisabeth Sussman, Alexander Nemerov, Danica Willard Sachs, Ed Halter, and Alan Rinzler, who provide new insights into Lyon’s oeuvre. Danny Lyon: Message to the Future fully assesses the artist’s remarkable and singular work and his place in history.


Julian Cox is the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s chief curator and founding curator of photography. His prior curatorial appointments include positions at the National Museum of Photography, Film, and Television (now the National Media Museum), Bradford, England; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. His recent publications include The Errand of the Eye: Photographs by Rose Mandel (2013) and Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay (2014).

Elisabeth Sussman is curator and Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Her exhibition Gordon Matta-Clark: “You Are the Measure” was awarded the International Association of Art Critics award for best monographic show in New York (2007–2008). She has organized many other Whitney exhibitions, including Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes (1991); Nan Goldin: I’ll Be Your Mirror (1996, with David Armstrong); Keith Haring (1997); and the museum’s 1993 and 2012 Biennial exhibitions.

Alexander Nemerov is chair of the department of art and art history and the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities at Stanford University. Prior to joining Stanford he was a professor of art history and American studies at Yale University. Over the years he has published books and articles pertaining to the culture of American art dating from the eighteenth century to the 1970s. His most recent monograph, on the photographs of Lewis Hine, will be published in 2016.

Danica Willard Sachs is an art curator and critic based in San Francisco. She writes regularly for Artforum and is a staff writer at Art Practical. She has organized several shows for the photography department at the Art Institute of Chicago as well as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Galleries.

Ed Halter is a critic and curator in New York City. He is the founder and director of Light Industry, a venue for film and electronic art. His writings on film, video, art, and music have appeared in Artforum, The Believer, Bookforum, Village Voice, and elsewhere. He teaches in the film and electronic arts department at Bard College.

Alan Rinzler is a veteran editor and book publisher. He has held editorial positions at Simon and Schuster; Macmillan; Holt, Rinehart and Winston; and the Grove Press. He was also director of trade publishing at Bantam Books, vice-president and associate publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, and president of Straight Arrow, Rolling Stone’s book division. He was responsible for publishing Lyon’s earliest book projects: The Movement (1964), The Bikeriders (1968), The Destruction of Lower Manhattan (1969), and Conversations with the Dead (1971).

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