In 1963 photographer Danny Lyon joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commitee, one of the major organsations of the American Civil Rights Movement, sparking a passion for politics that has continued throughout his fascinating career which has spanned nearly 50 years.
A new post on his Bleak Beauty blog reveals that the photographer has lost none of the campaigning spirit that characterised early work such as The Bikeriders (1971) (documenting the lifestyle of the Outlaw motorcycle club of the American Midwest) and his compelling series Conversations with the Dead (1971) (shot in six Texan jails over the course of 14 months).
The new post gives some interesting food for thought on the notions of rebellion and national identity as Lyon sees them. Here's what he had to say:
"In fifty years of traveling, of talking with, of photographing people I have often wondered 'Is America a Country?' The disparity of culture, of wealth, of a people often at odds with each other makes me wonder what is it that unites us, if anything?
"Our history is divided between the 16th century Spanish Empire in the West and the invasion by England a century later in the East. We share the experience of trying to exterminate the indigenous people, which failed, although 'we' did manage to steal all their land and keep many of their descendants in poverty to this day. I say 'we' with trepidation as my mother was raised under Nicholas the Second, Czar of Russia. My father left Nazi Germany to meet her in New York , where I had the good fortune to be born during WW II while the so called civilized countries managed to murder about ninety million people, a record. So my ancestors cannot be credited with the American Civil War, another factor in binding Americans as a people. In that shoot out, brought on by political malfeasance, we murdered roughly a million of each other, most dying from disease. So a hundred years after the war, as I traveled from Chicago to Georgia, then through the Texas prisons to reach the great state of New Mexico (statehood in 1912!), where they didn’t speak English in my post office, it is understandable that I still wondered 'Is America really a country? Why?'
"Eleven years ago I was riding the train down the Hudson Valley to Manhattan when the planes slammed into the Trade Center murdering almost 2,000 people. We had enemies that hated us! We were united as targets, the subject of murderous hatred. That week as I walked the streets of the city, I truly felt we were a country. I really felt like an American. So what makes an American an American?
"I always thought rebellion had something to do with it. Rebellion is among the legends we are raised with, the colonial rebellion against King George. In modern times we experienced the black rebellion in the South, an event that rises more and more in prominence as time goes by and from which virtually every modern movement, including the Woman’s Movement, probably the most profoundly effective movement of our life time, has sprung. And the anti war movement of the 1960’s and early ’70’s that brought down a president, a president who peered wistfully out through the White House windows to see demonstrators at his gates.
"Now comes before us Occupy. Occupy is a rebellion. Occupy redeems us. Occupy unites us and makes us Americans. Occupy shows ourselves and the world that there is a limit as to how far down we can be pushed. Occupy says “enough” to two generations of stupidity and greed. God Bless Occupy. It is the nature of Occupy that to suffer in public in a tent city, to stand by and wave a sign, to make a button, write a blog, to join it, is a victory. A finger straight up to the Greedy Few that have driven this country and its people, into the ground.
"As we write, a concerted police effort has shut down major encampments of Occupy. Police cannot stop such a movement. Violence and police oppression only make it grow. The pictures here were made at encampments in Albuquerque, Oakland and Zucatti Park. As of this posting, all have been closed down. How quickly photography becomes history."
Follow the link to Danny Lyon's Bleak Beauty blog.