Nathan Lyons, An Exploration of Photography as Visual Language — Bruno Chalifour

[Summer 2019]

Nathan Lyons, Untitled (Tucson), 2013, impression jet d’encre / inkjet print.

Nathan Lyons, Untitled (Tucson), 2013, impression jet d’encre / inkjet print.

By Bruno Chalifour

Some two years after Nathan Lyons’s death, on August 30, 2016, the George Eastman Museum (GEM) is presenting an overview of the life’s work of one of the central influencers of American photography in the second half of the twentieth century:1 a photographer exhibited in the most prestigious museums since 1960, a curator, an editor, an educator, an assistant director at the George Eastman House, a founder of the Visual Studies Workshop and its international magazine Afterimage, and an instigator and co-founder of the Society for Photographic Education – to list just a few of his many activities in and for photography. The idea for In Pursuit of Magic was germinated in 2013 and started as a collaboration between Lyons and the assistant curator at the GEM, Jamie Allen. The latter had to take over the project in 2016, with assistance from Lyons’s spouse, Joan, a celebrated printmaker and book artist, and the GEM’s chief curator, Lisa Hostetler. As a result, the exhibition in its final form oscillates between retrospective and first exhibition of Lyons’s foray into digital colour photography, between didactic homage and sometimes puzzling experimentation.

Nathan Lyons: A Life in Photography. Nathan Lyons was born in New York City in 1930. After two years as a US army photographer in Korea, he enrolled at Alfred University in New York, from which he graduated in 1957 with a BA in literature. During that period, he took art classes, including photography with John Wood, who had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (also known then as the New Bauhaus following Moholy-Nagy’s role in its creation) under Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. Wood had a strong impact on Lyons, who then decided to go to Chicago. En route, he stopped in Rochester to meet Minor White, who had just left the George Eastman House to join the faculty of the Rochester Institute of Technology. White informed Lyons that the director of the museum, Beaumont Newhall, was looking for someone to replace him. This is how Nathan Lyons joined the staff. He left his position as assistant director in 1969, when he “was resigned” by a museum board too conservative for his ideas…
English version by Bruno Chalifour

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1 Nathan Lyons: In Pursuit of Magic, George Eastman Museum (Rochester, NY), January 25–June 9, 2019.

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