I’m on my way to Lafayette, Louisiana for the world premiere of my new film And Those Who Dance it Surrender Their Hearts to Each Other. It will screen at the Acadiana Center for the Arts Sunday Jan. 27 at 730pm as part of the 14th annual Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival. I moved to New Mexico for seven months to work with Danny Lyon in 2017 and that’s where I started a project about a string band called Lone Piñon. In anticipation of my premiere this weekend I decided to put together a post about working with Danny Lyon. I helped him edit his new film Wanderer (2018), and other notable projects included uploading all of his recently restored films to Vimeo (accessible and free online for the very first time), scanning artwork for his archives, and cataloging his life work. We would discuss how art can function as an alternative to the media, and how historical context is always present. I enjoy his films because they are conversations. Lyon is constantly speaking with his subjects while filming so his presence is not hidden, it is ubiquitous. This gives a remarkable insight into his humanity, his life and into the uncompromising vision of (as Jerry Saltz wrote) “one of the most powerful and important political photographers in history.” *
Wanderer just had its west coast premiere at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona in November 2018.* After the screening Lyon spoke about his film, the perks of small digital video cameras, and making work in New Mexico. “This is a very dark film actually, and we are in a very dark time, to put it mildly. I think the desert was a subject important to me and so was the end of civilization and climate change.”
Lyon first arrived in New Mexico in his late twenties at the peak of his photography career, and he fell in love with a small town north of Albuquerque. He built his adobe home with his best friend, Eddie, an undocumented worker from Chihuahua, Mexico. Eddie is the star of his film ironically titled El Mojado / “The Wetback” (1974). Lyon would help smuggle Eddie across the border every year, and some of his early photographs in New Mexico were portraits of Eddie and the construction of his home. He then directed his attention towards locals like the Jaramillo family. In his new film, Lyon finds Willie Jaramillo's little brother Ferny and his sister Gloria who are now older adults. It is the fourth feature in a series of New Mexican non-fiction films: Llanito (1971), Little Boy (1977) and Willie (1985). In the words of Lyon: “A part of the power of these films is that they are real. You can’t buy realism. The real magic is that it can be a reflection or a moment, it can be a very little thing and if it’s in focus that is the most gratifying thing.” He and his wife Nancy purchased Willie’s tombstone. Willie is buried at The Lady of Sorrows Cemetery where Lyon films his neighbor Dennis lighting candles in the beginning of Wanderer.
“I came to New Mexico with all my famous photography behind me and I was really walking away from this stellar career as a photographer and I got there (New Mexico) around 1970. When I got to Sandoval County and I looked around which I knew very little about, but there’s not that much to know about the county …there were only four roads in it, I thought this was like Faulkner. Faulkner lived in Oxford, Mississippi and as I understand it many, or most of the things he wrote about were about things right there in his back yard. People he knew etcetera etcetera, and I thought I can do that here in Llanito, and in a way I did it.” He continued, “I never connected back east the way I did with the west and that community. I tend to fall in love with the people I am filming. I care about them. The Jaramillos are very nice to me and nice people. ”
“I want to point out with pride that you are not supposed to have a camera in the auto graveyard, you are not supposed to have a camera in the fairground, and you are not supposed to make films in a casino, and you are not supposed to make films with your dog. All these things were done clandestinely without permission. That’s where this little camera comes in.” Until 15 years ago all of Lyon’s work was made on a 16mm film camera, but now it’s accepted as obsolete technology, and it’s too expensive for independent filmmakers. After a shoulder surgery he picked up a one pound high definition 4k digital video camera. Lyon reflected, “In a way, it’s a dream come true going back to my first film in 1969 (Social Sciences 127) you had to have a sound person. I married Nancy and she was my sound person. We made many many films together, so you have to have a second independent person holding a mic, but you don’t with this. It is a real revelation because people do have separate people holding mics, but the audio is actually excellent. So that changes it emotionally. You don’t have to have a second sensitive person there…Nancy was a big plus because she is much nicer than I am. Most of Willie, Willie is speaking to Nancy. Who is a perfect sound person, because she is not noisy like me. I talk more than people in the film. I’m very judicious about turning the camera on. The trouble with video is it’s not film. It’s free and you tend to use it like a tape recorder, which is a totally different experience. You turn it on and leave the room like you are Andy Warhol. That's a problem really it’s much better when you are under pressure.”
I’d like to thank Danny Lyon for his permission to share these videos on my blog, and all the work we have done together since 2017. To see more of his work you can go to his website or to his vimeo page.
* CCP was founded by a strong conviction from Ansel Adams to the president of the University of Arizona to house his and many other photographers archives in a state of the art academic museum. It now holds over 270 archival collections of influential photographers like Harry Callahan, W. Eugene Smith, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Edward Weston, and Garry Winogrand.