Saturday, September 17, 2016

Visual Studies

Nathan Lyons photographed by Joan Lyons
Nathan Lyons ( 1930-2016 )
Curator and founder of the Visual 
Studies Workshop

The study of photography wouldn't be what it is today without the scholarship and example of Nathan Lyons.  Photography lost a major figure when this man passed away last week, and we can pause to reflect on what he meant for his adopted "image city".

My own study of photography drew great benefits from Nathan Lyon's leadership - way before I had the chance to meet him.  His influence was felt through his own work as a photographer,  through the school he helped build: the Visual Studies Workshop, and through the many photographers and artists who passed through those doors - only to come out richer and better informed.  Nathan Lyons was a gifted writer, curator, and speaker, and his influence is felt by anyone who seriously enjoys collecting photography from some of the major names now in the field.  He argued for photography as a fine art, supported and shown in galleries and museums across the nation, and he worked tirelessly in that effort as a curator at The George Eastman House.

Nathan Lyons signing copies of his books

It was Nathan Lyons who saw value in the American snapshot, and he lent credibility to a diverse scene which included images by people like Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Duane Michals, Joel Meyerowitz among others.  Nathan Lyons brought photography to the attention of museums and their public around the world, and there were many portfolios and shows that finally garnered the respect and admiration that was demanded.  Photographers began to have their work collected and many books were published that featured their artistry.

Nathan Lyons

One can learn a lot more by reading the recent book edited by Jessica McDonald published by the University of Texas Press - in which Nathan Lyons' essays and lectures are published as a collection. I was lucky to get Nathan Lyons signature on my copy of his book when it went on sale at Lumiere Photo several years ago on College Avenue in Rochester.  Nathan Lyons had a deep impact, his influence is felt, and his presence will be missed, he was 86.