1963: Scenes of young African-American protestors applauding, one with his arm raised toward the sky; racial conflict and police brutality. Danny Lyon, the son of Jewish immigrants, was just twenty-one years old and a student at the University of Chicago when he fearlessly took these photographs of a protest that made history: the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. These powerful images would establish the photographer and filmmaker as one of the most important chroniclers of the American civil rights movement. Alongside these early images, Lyon also photographed the series Conversations with the Dead (1967/68), the first to reveal the daily lives of inmates and guards in Texan prisons. In the year before, his collection The Bikeriders (1966) was a haunting, first-hand and unsparing glimpse of life inside the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club, well before the release of the American cult film Easy Rider (1969) popularized the energy, independence, freedom, and romance of highways and Harley-Davidsons and brought them into the mainstream. Throughout a career spanning over fifty years, Lyon took countless photographs documenting social reality and bearing unmistakable witness to the political battles of half a century—while also seamlessly fusing his photographic work with moving images and the written word.
C/O Berlin is the first and only institution in Germany to showcase this comprehensive retrospective with approximately 175 works, including the photographer’s most important series from the late 1960s and 1970s, and offers a rare look at lesser-known films, collage works, and materials from Lyon’s private archive. The exhibition is curated by Julian Cox and organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.