Arts & Culture

Danny Lyon’s artwork featured in Bell Gallery documentaries

Gallery delves into its permanent collection, highlights Lyon’s career through documentaries

Staff Writer
Monday, November 5, 2018

The Bell Gallery hosted a new exhibition showcasing works spanning the career of photographer and documentarian Danny Lyon.

On Thursday Nov. 1, artist Danny Lyon sat down and discussed his life, as well as his artistic interactions with politics and morality, at the List Art Center Auditorium. His talk launched the David Winton Bell Gallery’s latest exhibition, titled “The Only Thing I Saw Worth Leaving,” which showcases a collection of Lyon’s work and will run until Dec. 19.

The Bell Gallery recently made it a goal to draw the Brown community’s attention to its own permanent collection of artworks, said Allison Pappas GS. This permanent collection includes a large portion of Lyon’s work, with the current exhibition presenting over a hundred of Lyon’s photographs and four of his films. In addition, Lyon’s work — “which has a strong social and political engagement” — easily ties into activity on Brown’s campus, Pappas said.

The exhibition features photographs from four of Lyon’s most significant series, including “Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement,” “The Bikeriders,” “The Destruction of Lower Manhattan” and “Conversations with the Dead.” These four series of photographs were developed in the 1960s, when Lyon was in his twenties. The four documentaries showcased in the exhibition space were all crafted at a later stage in Lyon’s career.

Lyon often focuses on the themes of empathy and freedom in his artwork. “Driven by concern for the marginalized and disenfranchised, Lyon has chronicled civil rights protests as the first official photographer for the (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee),” said Jo-Ann Conklin, the director of the Bell Gallery. 

“He was making photographs of things that were not photographed by anyone else when he first started,” Pappas added.

Lyon is distinguished as an artist by his ability to connect with the subjects in his work and to show them as real people through their own words and actions. “His particular vision, his approach is unique. Part of the reasons the photographs are so strong is that you get a sense through them of his connection to people,” Pappas said. She highlighted the photographs taken within an American prison as epitomizing his ability to cut through the boundaries of different backgrounds and to simply connect with people for who they are. This artistic faculty renders Lyon’s work “incredibly malleable,” Pappas said. “That is quite powerful,” and differentiates Lyon’s work from that of others, she added.

Though Lyon focused on photography for the majority of the 1960s, he moved toward the medium of documentary later in his life. Seemingly about nothing and everything simultaneously, his documentaries can be described as “environmental portraits,” Pappas said. The films “show you who these people are,” she added. “They attempt to flesh things out in a different way than the photographs.”

In Lyon’s talk, he discussed how he found himself and his art growing as his artistic maturity developed. “I had thought of myself as a journalist, but I was functioning like an artist,” Lyon said.

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