Nathan Lyons

Nathan Lyons

2016 Honoree: Visionary Award



Nathan Lyons was an integral part of almost every area of photography as photographer, educator, publisher, lecturer, author, and curator for nearly 60 years. He was founding director emeritus, Visual Studies Workshop (1969–2001) and distinguished professor emeritus, SUNY Brockport. He held honorary doctorates from Rhode Island School of Design (2004), Corcoran School of Art (1995), and Alfred University (2006), and was named Honored Educator, Society for Photographic Education (1997). Mr. Lyons was associate director and curator of photography, editor of publications, and director of extension activities at the George Eastman House (1961–69). He was a founder and first chairman of the Society for Photographic Education, and initiated the formation of Oracle, an annual meeting of photographic curators.

Mr. Lyons exhibited extensively since 1956 with work represented in numerous collections. He was the recipient of the International Center of Photography Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement in Photography (2000) and Friends of Photography Peer Awards in Creative Photography—Award for Distinguished Career in Photography (1989).

By 1962 Mr. Lyons settled on his preferred methodology and format, wideangle 35 mm hand camera photography and black and white 5 x 7 inch silver gelatin prints, which, by the early 1970s, he would mount in pairs in a single mat for exhibition. Soon he would be organizing extended sequences of images and planning the utilization of the book medium for displaying his work. Assuming a variety of roles resembling sociologist, ethnographer, anthropologist, observer, commentator, poet, essayist, and historian, Mr. Lyons showed us overt and hidden dimensions of material culture and belief systems. The photographs and the books of photographs offer his views of the social world surrounding us in ever closer, intimately tighter encircling realities.

Mr. Lyons’ photographic sequences are a turning point in the possibilities for visual literature. They demonstrate— achieve—an evolution in visual thinking and its expression that attains a density and complexity of allusion. Respect, sometimes admiration, for the dignity and ambiguity of individual voices inscribed on the surface of our world tells us about our world and helps shape our conception of how things are.

Mr. Lyons published four books of photographs, comprising an extended sequence of images begun in the early 1960s. They are: Notations in Passing (1974), Riding First Class on the Titanic (1999), After 9/11 (2003), and Return Your Mind to its Upright Position (2014).

Mr. Lyons worked in digital color until the time of his death. He passed away at the age of 86 on August 31, 2016.


Nathan Lyons – presented by Anne Wilkes Tucker (Former Curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)