A “MASTERPIECE… LYON’S PHOTOGRAHS MUST BE AMONGST THE MOST ELOQUENT EVER SHOT IN A PRISON”: 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 quarto, original illustrated stiff white paper wrappers. $750.
First trade edition of Lyon’s revealing photobook on convicts, including life in a Texas prison, “where convicts lived who had been in prison 20 years and turned into old and crazy men,” with 76 black-and-white halftone photographic plates.
“Lyon may be described as one of photography’s great loners” (Parr & Badger I:256). To fellow photographer Nan Goldin, however, Lyon is also a journalist whose work “is not about the surface, the sensational, the soundbite; it is imbued with his respect for the people he photographs, and with the commitment and responsibility this respect entails” (Artforum). Conversations is simply a “masterpiece… Lyon’s photographs must be amongst the most eloquent ever shot in a prison” (Parr & Badger II:18). In 1967, early in his career, Lyon entered the Texas prison system as a “‘visiting photographer’ and stayed for 14 months… Conversations with the Dead is at once an intimately engaged social document and a study in outlaw masculinity” (Roth, 210). Lyon’s record of convict life across six prisons includes 76 photographs, 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 under the title Born to Lose and smuggled out by Lyon, this 1971 first trade edition, published same year as the first edition, tries to “make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality” (Lyons). See Open Book, 278.
Images clean and bright; slight soiling, faintest dampstaining to spine end of fragile original wrappers. Near-fine.