New York of 1974: The Photography of Danny Lyon

by on June 28, 2015

Danny Lyon evocatively captures the New York City of 1974: in all its glory, decay, struggles and joy.

Danny Lyon chronicled America in the turbulent times of the 60s and the 70s, and is legendary for his coverage of events that were to prove turning points in America’s history. His work, an example of the New Journalism movement, covered subjects such as the American Civil Rights Movement, the Texas prisons, and the bike gangs of 1970s Chicago.

Lyon’s work is politically charged and captures the cultural and ethnic diversity of America in the 70s.

Perhaps the fascinating example of this is his series of photographs on New York City, part of the DOCUMERICA series in the summer of 1974. Lyon captures the times as he chronicles the daily life in the streets of New York City and its neighbourhoods. It is an intriguing look back at the times that evocatively illuminates the America of 1974.

All photographs courtesy of The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Inner city residents of Brooklyn walk along Bushwick Avenue oblivious to the noise of the graffiti garbed elevated train.

Inner city life on bond street in Brooklyn. Some of the best American architecture survives in her “worst” neighborhoods, only because it hasn’t been demolished.

Three young girls in Brooklyn, New York City.

Kosciosko the underside of an elevated train platform.

Kosciosko swimming pool, a public pool in Brooklyn.

People looking at boat traffic on the east river with the Manhattan bridge in the background.

Three young girls on Bond street in Brooklyn.

People on an outing at East River Park in Manhattan

Kids enjoying playground equipment in East River Park in Manhattan.

Youngsters on the 4th July at the Kosciusko swimming pool in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant district

Eagle insignia on a New York City fire department truck.

Graffiti with a supergraphic “vail” and other words on a wall in Brooklyn.

Young man with his leg in a cast in Hiland Park of Brooklyn.

Fire set by the Brooklyn polytechnic institute to test wires and insulation in NYC.

Puerto Rican boys playing softball in Brooklyn’s Hiland Park.

Boy against a yellow platform at the Kosciusko swimming pool in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district.

Three boys and “a train” graffiti in Brooklyn’s Lynch Park.

Latin youths at Lynch Park in Brooklyn.

Wall painting at division and forsyth streets in Lower Manhattan.

Row houses in Brooklyn.

Two Latin girls pose in front of a wall of graffiti in Lynch Park in Brooklyn.

The Manhattan Bridge tower.

Boy scout leader recruiting among Latin youths in the bedford-stuyvesant district.

Apartment house across from Fort Green Park in Brooklyn

Gaede’s wrecking yard.

The Koscioko swimming pool.

Children at Reis park in Brooklyn.

Junked automobiles piled three deep along the fence.

Photographs: Danny Lyon and The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Danny Lyon’s work is electrifying and deeply personal, yet politically significant. His choice of subjects – whether it’s photographing the victims of the penal system in the prisons of Texas (chronicled in this book) – “I spent 14 months talking to these guys. They broke my heart. Prison is one story after another, and every one breaks your heart. I was young enough then to care.” (source) – or that of documenting the Outlaws motor gang – speaks for itself. Conscience is deeply ingrained in Lyon’s work, as is the beautiful and terrible nature of reality. He manages to be politically forceful and creates something beautiful and lasting in the process.

Also highly recommended is his visual autobiography – Memories of Myself, what he once described as the “product of political calculus”. It fully brings out the majesty and the raw honesty of his work and his life, and contains photo essays from his travels from everywhere to Brooklyn to Haiti to China. Like the rest of his work, Memories is a powerful tribute to one of the greatest photographers and one of the most important voices in journalism.

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