Danny Lyon: Message to the Future

Solo en Inglès

Listen to commentary from scholars Elisabeth Sussman, Todd Gitlin, Julian Cox, and artist Danny Lyon on selected works in the exhibition Danny Lyon: Message to the Future.

Danny Lyon (b. 1942), Voting Rights Demonstration, Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, Alabama, October 7, 1963. Gelatin silver print. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Photography Committee 95.6. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Narrator: One of SNCC’s major goals was to help black voters exercise their rights as American citizens. In the South, African American voters were frequently thwarted by literacy tests and extra layers of bureaucracy. Beyond that, they were often violently harassed when they attempted to register or vote. These two photographs create a vivid picture of the tension surrounding voter registration drives. 

Elisabeth Sussman: What's so amazing about them is that it's before and after. You have these two guys, each of them standing up with signs that say "Register to Vote." You see the sheriffs taking them away. Arresting them, essentially. It's a like pictures speak a million words here. 

Narrator: Beyond the events themselves, Lyon’s photograph captures something powerful about the nature of nonviolent protest. 

Elisabeth Sussman: I like the play on the hats here that you've got all these hard hat defended guys with their big sheriffs' stars pinned on stuff, and then, you have them hauling away this guy with this dandy little straw hat perched on his head, and this smart outfit that he has on. The hats tell the story in a way, I think.

Really, it was the desire to record history as it was happening that took him down South at these crucial moments. From the earliest moment, because this is '63 and the events unfolded in Selma and other places after that, and Danny was on the spot. He just would move around wherever the action was.