Critics’ Picks

Danny Lyon, Kite, Taiyuan, Shanxi, 2006, gelatin silver print, 8 x 10”.

New York

Danny Lyon

Churner and Churner
205 Tenth Avenue
October 18–December 15

In 2007 Les Blank, a filmmaker known for decades’ worth of work on quintessentially American subjects, ventured to China in order to make All in This Tea, a film about a tea importer. Now Danny Lyon, equally identified with America through his important series documenting civil rights activists, motorcycle gangs, prisoners, and urban renewal in Lower Manhattan, has also traveled across the Pacific. The thirty photographs in “Deep Sea Diver” are the fruit of six visits to Shanxi Province between 2005 and 2009. To his credit, Lyon looks beyond the glassy, garish urban surfaces often presented as emblems of a country forcefully striding into the twenty-first century. Instead, these small black-and-white prints depict humdrum experience in this coal-mining region. Morning exercise is taken not far from belching smokestacks; entertainment is a game of cards, or a kite, or a low-budget circus, not the lounge at a four-star hotel; buildings and vehicles are in various states of disrepair; exposed power lines snake this way and that in crudely improvised fashion. One senses Lyon’s sympathy with the hardships of the working-class people he depicts, and the grit, imperfections, and evidence of toil function metaphorically as meditations on the artist’s own aging body. This is not, however, a dour exhibition. As suggested by Lyon’s writings in maquettes for his book of this work, published in 2011 by Phaidon, he found much to admire in a culture so irremediably “other,” and learned a lot about himself in the process.