“SIRS, I’M GOING TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE REALITY”: DANNY LYON’S "MASTERPIECE," CONVERSATIONS WITH THE DEAD
LYON, Danny. Conversations with the Dead: Photographs of Prison Life with the Letters and Drawings of Billy McCune #122054. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, (1971). Oblong octavo, original illustrated white stiff paper wrappers. $750.
First trade edition of Lyon’s important documentary on convict life in six Texas prisons, with 76 full-page black-and-white illustrations from his photographs—"amongst the most eloquent ever shot in prison… as powerful and as relevant as ever."
"Lyon may be described as one of photography's great loners" (Parr & Badger I: 256). Lyon began his career documenting the early civil-rights movement and in his 1968 book, Bikeriders, "defined a new kind of photographer, a combination of witness and participant." In 1967 he entered the Texas prison system as a "visiting photographer" and during the next 14 months documented the lives of the inmates. His photographic record of that time, Conversations with the Dead, is widely considered "his masterpiece… Lyon's photographs must be amongst the most eloquent ever shot in prison… Lyon's imagery, which has become classic… remains as powerful and as relevant as ever" (Part & Badger II:18). Documenting convict life in six separate prisons, Conversations "is at once an intimately engaged social document and a study in outlaw masculinity" (Roth, 210). With 76 photographic plates, excerpts from convicts' writings, and color reproductions of inmate Billy McCune's drawings. Originally published as a portfolio of 20 photographs, run off in the prison print shop and smuggled out by Lyon before they could be confiscated, this powerful work tries to "make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality" (Lyon). Issued along with a cloth trade edition, no priority established. Open Book, 278-79.
Interior fresh, only slight bump and curl to lightly soiled wrappers. A near-fine copy.