What does it take to commit to a craft for more than 70 years—particularly one that has undergone the revolutions in technology that photography has? Legendary photographer Fred Lyon worked as a Navy photographer in WWII, spent more than a decade in advertizing and fashion in New York, shot journalistically for Lifemagazine and Sports Illustrated, and returned to his native Bay Area to document the city and further diversify his repertoire. I sat down with the gracious, funny, and formidably energetic Lyon to discuss the habits of attitude, practice, and perseverance that have given his career such longevity.
The Rumpus: I’m curious about how peoples’ reading of photography, both art- and journalistic, has changed with the glut of images we see every day, in social networks, etc. When you started out, and photographs were more rare, do you think people looked at them differently?
Fred Lyon: It’s one of the funny things about living as long as I have, you don’t see it happening; it just happens, and only in retrospect do you see the wild changes. For many years, if I was working on something journalistic, if I raised my camera, people were a little shocked and wanted to know what I was doing. I had to be very quick to get what I wanted before they said, “Why are you pointing that machine at me?!” Now it’s so much better. Nobody cares if they’re having their pictures taken. Young people just have photography as part of their vocabulary. It’s the language of young people. All of you just use it as a tool without being impressed by it. As for art, I’ve always gotten nervous around people who talk about “fine art photography.” Usually, it’s named that by the people who are doing it. My feeling is that if it’s fine art, somebody else will tell you. I just photograph what I see or what I visualize and if somebody else thinks that’s art, terrific. (Continue reading)
What a great piece! I imagine that stories involving gin, elephants and bikinis are what every interviewer dreams of coaxing from a subject.
Thanks, Jackson! Yes, that was a high point in the discussion. I really do wish he had forced himself to go through with the bikinis and elephants on sunset boulevarde-shoot despite the hangover. Then we’d have the great story and the images!
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