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Danny Lyon

A black-and-white photograph of a man sitting in an abandoned hotel room.
Danny Lyon. Self-Portrait in Abandoned Hotel Room, 1967/69. Gift of Hugh Edwards.
Date of birth

Over a career spanning six decades, photographer and filmmaker Danny Lyon has become known for immersing himself in the cultures he documents. His preferred subjects often occupy the fringes of society, and his intensive investigations have resulted in acclaimed photographic series accompanied by books. His most notable publications feature protests for civil rights in the south; the members of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club; the demolition of a neighborhood to make way for commercial development in New York; and the Texas penitentiary system.

Lyon began seriously working in photography as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, and produced his first photographic projects in Chicago, focusing on the Chicago Outlaws and the Appalachian community living in Uptown at the time. In the 1960s, Art Institute curator of photography Hugh Edwards—who became both mentor and friend to the young photographer—mounted two separate solo exhibitions of his work, his earliest museum shows. Lyon began making films in the late 1960s, with topics ranging from the inhabitants of Bernalillo, New Mexico, to his own family. He went on to win numerous awards and his work has been the subject of major exhibitions across the world. Although Lyon now divides his time between New York and New Mexico, Chicago remains important for him personally and artistically. 

Lyon’s work was featured in the 2017 exhibition The Photographer’s Curator: Hugh Edwards at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1959–1970, and the 2018 exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, a poetic survey of photographers and filmmakers who worked in neighborhoods across the city from the 1950s through the 1970s. Explore more about Lyon in the Art Institute’s Hugh Edwards archive.

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