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Sean O’Hagan writes:

Lyon was a pioneer of what might be called immersive photojournalism, steeping himself in his subject matter in the manner of pioneering 60s writers of the New Journalism school such as Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson. He builds the visual narrative around extended personal accounts by selected inmates, the often intimate descriptions of life inside illuminating his already powerful images. “The text of the book, compiled from prison records and convict writings, presents the lives of a few of these men,” he writes in his introduction. “They are the heroes of this book. I knew each of them as well as a free man can.”

[…] On every level, then, Danny Lyon’s approach flies in the face of detached documentary reporting, but it is this that also makes his work so viscerally forceful.

Read the full piece: Conversations With the Dead: Book review – 60s prison life in the US

IT just went up a notch.

The opinionated and fiercely political legendary photojournalist/writer Danny Lyon has just boosted the fundraising efforts of Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR) by offering a modern print that would usually go for about three or four thousand dollars. You can buy it.

Danny emailed:

“This is a 1995 modern print made by Kelton. The negative was made by me in 1968. Ramsey Prison Cell Block, Texas Prison, 1968 was published on p.121 of [the book] Conversations with the Dead with the caption ‘Six Wing Cell Block’. List the selling price as $1,750.00. The whole point is to get money for your project.”

Quite the endorsement of PPOTR and a gesture of great generosity.


I’ll be meeting Danny in November during PPOTR. Judging by the frankness and wit of this interview, it’ll be a fierce and fun dialogue. Danny on the Civil Rights movement:

“The Civil Rights movement is now regarded as a turning point in our history. I was there in the midst of it, and I was still a student, only 20 years old at the time. My parents were both immigrants, and the Russian side, which had participated in the first and second Russian Revolutions, were very vocal about justice, history and what we now call human rights. So I went. In retrospect, it was one of the more intelligent decisions of my life. Let this be absolutely clear: My parents did not encourage this, it frightened them. My teachers did not encourage this, they wanted me to stay in school and earn a degree. The Civil Rights movement was not popular; it was unpopular. And it was illegal. Almost everything the early Civil Rights movement did, and the group I joined did, was illegal. That is why [we] were being arrested. Present-day Congressman John Lewis, who was my roommate in Atlanta in 1963, was arrested forty times. He was arrested because he was breaking the law. This was exciting, it was visually powerful [and] it was “news” ─ though few national news outlets realized this when I began ─ and it was  history, unfolding right in front of me. I was a history student and a photographer. I went.”

And when asked to give young photographers some advice:

“Leave school and go out and do something and stay away from New York City.”


Photographer: Danny Lyon
Title: ‘Ramsey Prison Cell Block, Texas Prison, 1968’
Year: Neg. made 1968, printed 1995.
Size: 11″x14″
B/W modern-print, signed (verso)

Print, PLUS postcard, mixtape and self-published book – $1,750 – BUY NOW

Danny Lyon spoke out last week about Google books’ disregard for rights, artistic craft and common respect. In Google vs. The Bikeriders he lays out a short and no nonsense argument.

Lyon doesn’t oppose digital distribution of his work – he just doesn’t want it scanned en masse. He wants publishers, software programmers and artists to do the work.

On the existence of books, Lyon warned, “I’d be real careful about messing with this stuff.  I’m not sure I would want to live without them.”


The Bikeriders 1968, The Destruction of Lower Manhattan 1969, and Conversations with the Dead 1971, were all out of print within two years of their publications. They had all been remaindered by their publishers and would remain out of print for at least twenty years each.

“Conversations” is still out of print. Under Google’s new rules, Conversations with the Dead could be scanned and put on line by Google without even contacting me. Many photo book makers are torn between standing up for their rights, and “being left out” by the Ruler of the Internet.

So what is wrong with having Goggle (sic) bring my out of print work to the world wide web?

1) It is theft. Ownership of out of print work reverts to the author (me). Copyright has worked well in America for centuries and is part of the foundation of our Democracy and the Ist Amendment. I own my writing and my work. They really do have to ask.

2) Picture books are different. You cannot scan them and put them on the internet. Scanning a printed image destroys the beauty of the work which is embedded in the work itself. That is why authors make picture books. They are making a thing of beauty. That is why printers, ink, paper, and publishers and production managers are all so important. They all work  to create a thing of beauty, a book. In this case, as picture book.

There is nothing wrong with putting a picture book on the internet. But that can only be done the way a book is printed, which is to scan the individual images.  It is the difference between “the real thing” and a bad xerox of it.

If they want “Conversations with the Dead” on the internet they have to work with publishers, who employ the people to make the prints and make the scans and recreate the book for internet use, just the way a person makes a good website.

That’s a lot of work that will create a lot of jobs, and it should.

Publishers are the people to do this, as they are in the book business. Google seems intent on destroying the book business and its just possible, that they will.

Books, the printed smelly kind you hold in your hand, have been part of and have helped advance civilization for five hundred years. The Greeks and Ancient Jews used papyrus rolls, which they also held to write on, and to read, 2,500 years ago.  I’d be real careful about messing with this stuff.  I’m not sure I would want to live without them.

I am amazed that Lyon even needs to fight a corner on this. He surely is more valuable to us than scanned copies of his books.

How to tell Google to lay off Lyon’s publications?


Danny Lyon’s website is Bleak Beauty.

Here for everything else:


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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