Danny Lyon (born 1942), is a self-taught American photographer and filmmaker. Born in Brooklyn, NY, he is also credited as an accomplished writer to accompany his photographs. He studied history at the University of Chicago, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963.
That same year, he published his first photographs working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. His pictures appeared in The Movement, a documentary book about the Southern Civil Rights Movement.
Later, Lyon began creating his own books. His first, was a study of outlaw motorcyclists in the collection Bikeriders (1967), where Lyon did more than just photograph motorcyclists in the American Midwest from 1963 to 1967. Additionally, he also became a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle club and traveled with them, sharing their lifestyle. According to Lyon himself, the photographs were "an attempt to record and glorify the life of the American bikerider." The series was immensely popular and influential in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Destruction of Lower Manhattan was Lyon's next work, published by Macmillan Publishers in 1969. The book documents the large-scale demolition taking place throughout Lower Manhattan in 1967. Included are photographs of soon to be demolished streets and buildings, portraits of the neighborhood's last remaining stragglers and pictures from within the demolition sites themselves. The book originally sold for one dollar each, but soon attained the status of a collector's item. It was later reprinted in 2005.
Conversations with the Dead (1971), was published with full cooperation of the Texas Department of Corrections. Lyon photographed in six prisons over a fourteen month period in 1967 to 1968. The series was printed to book in 1971 by Holt publishing. The introduction of Lyon's book points to a statement of purpose that the penal system of Texas is symbolic for incarceration everywhere. He states, "I tried with whatever power I had to make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality."
Lyon befriended many of the prisoners. The book also includes texts taken from prison records, letters from the convicts, and inmate artwork. In particular, the book focuses on the case of Billy McCune, a convicted rapist whose death sentence was commuted to life in prison during the climax of the book's popularity. In the foreword, Lyon describes Billy as a diagnosed psychotic, who one evening, while awaiting execution, "cut his penis off to the root and, placing it in a cup, passed it between the bars to the guard."
All of Lyon's publications work in the style of photographic "New Journalism", meaning that the photographer has become immersed, and is a participant, of the documented subject.
Another work, I Like to Eat Right on the Dirt, is a collection of Polaroids taken of his children.
In 2007 Powerhouse Books published Danny Lyon's Like a Thief's Dream. From the dustjacket: " Like a Thief's Dream, the first full length nonfiction book from photographer and filmmaker Danny Lyon, presents the story of James Ray Denton - thief, counterfeiter , and bank robber..."
Danny Lyon received the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship for photography in 1969, and in film making in 1979. He has had solo exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. He is the founding member of the photography group Bleak Beauty. He was greatly encouraged in his documentary work by curator Hugh Edwards.