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Lyon captures Civil Rights Movement in exhibit

By Jillian Festa
Staff Writer

The Art Gallery in the AIMM building was bustling with students, professors, alumni and local residents on Wednesday, Jan. 28.  The spring art exhibit, titled “Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement,” was chosen as part of this year’s intellectual theme of justice in commemoration of  the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. It features 50 of the most iconic black-and-white photographs of photographer and filmmaker Danny Lyon.

Among the many perusers of the gallery on its opening night was Trenton resident Elise Mannella. “I’ve known about Lyon and I’m very interested in this period in American history,” she said.

Born in 1942 in Brooklyn, Lyon published his first photographs working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  From 1962 to 1964, he traveled the Mid-Atlantic and South documenting the Civil Rights Movement.  He provided pictures for SNCC’s propaganda and press releases. He received the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship for photography in 1969, then for filmmaking in 1979.

Students gather to view and discuss Lyon’s influential work. (Samantha Selikoff / Photo Editor)
Students gather to view and discuss Lyon’s influential work. (Samantha Selikoff / Photo Editor)

His pictures not only captured moments of the movement, but immortalized the emotions of their subjects.

“There was a very interesting diversity in the photography,”  freshman biomedical engineering major Bella Nicholson  said. “It really did capture the highlights of the SNCC and all they tried to accomplish during the movement.”

Junior graphic design major Danielle McDermott, who also visited the exhibit, was struck by the artist’s deeply-moving work.

“I read about (this exhibit) on a flyer and it seemed pretty interesting,” McDermott said. One of her favorite works was captioned “Arrested for demonstrating in America’s Georgia, teenage girls are kept in a stockade … This photograph was taken through the broken glass of the barred windows.”

Lyon’s style is described as photographic New Journalism, in which the photographer  becomes immersed and is a participant of the documented subject. He accomplished more than just documenting the Civil Rights Movement — he created beautiful pieces of art. Printed on the wall in the gallery was a quote by U.S. Congressman John Lewis regarding Lyon: “This young white New Yorker came South with a camera and a keen eye for history. And he used these simple, elegant gifts to capture the story of one of the most inspiring periods in America’s twentieth century.”

The exhibit is open to the public from Jan. 28 to March 1, and Lyon’s 1975 film, “Los Niños Abandonados,” will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 11, at 10 a.m. in the Kendall Hall Screening Room.

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