Seven decades behind the camera haven’t dimmed Fred Lyon’s verve as he attacks his craft.
This fourth generation San Franciscan apprenticed at age 14 at the Gabriel Moulin photography studio before enrolling in Art Center School in Los Angeles.
During WWII, Lyon served as a Navy photographer in Washington, D.C. His news and feature stories were released to wire services and national magazines. Lyon covered White House press events, and has captured five U.S. presidents during his career.
After the war Lyon moved to New York. At the Philip Wilcox Studios on Park Avenue, he was soon shooting for top New York fashion houses, where he became known for his easy, natural touch.
Lyon returned to California in 1946, building a freelance career with assignments from magazines such as House & Garden, Vogue, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Life and Look. By the late 50s, advertising photography became part of the mix.
Internationally known for his range of diversity, Lyon has made photographs for over fifty books. In 1949 the San Francisco Museum of Art gave him his first one-man show. He remarked, “It wasn’t the thrill I’d expected. I’d seen all the pictures before."
By the 70s, Lyon began concentrating on the subjects he likes best: travel, food and wine. Working on the “Great Dinners” series for Life, he also shot the Viennese and Italian cookbooks for Life’s “Foods of the World” on location in Europe.
Reluctantly dubbed an elder statesman of the Bay Area photography scene, Lyon says, “I decided that as long as I was going to be old and cranky, I might as well do the things I liked.” Toward that end, he also raised premium wine grapes in the Napa Valley for thirty years, becoming something of a fixture in the wine community, climbing down from his tractor to prowl the vineyards with his camera.
An exhibition of his work entitled the Bridges of San Francisco was featured at The Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco and at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1955. Reviewing the show, Alfred Frankenstein wrote, “He captures every aspect brilliantly and one aspect uniquely – the bridges as arteries that keep the city going.”
Lyon told Peter Pollack, then Curator of Photography for the Art institute of Chicago, “I utilize my camera for ‘selective seeing’. Perhaps the most individual aspect of my work is my interest in the impressionism of nature and the varied aspects of natural light. To me, photography is a process of discovery rather than of contrivance.” Pollack added, “His photographs are poetic interpretations of his affection and his profound respect for the designers, the engineers, and the craftsmen who meticulously and artistically conceived these wonders.”
Lyon continues to satisfy the needs of his favorite longtime clients, but most importantly, he has dedicated time in recent years to assembling his archive of his beloved home town, San Francisco. A major publication and touring exhibition is being planned to celebrate his extraordinary accomplishments.
Lyon’s photos have been shown in the Rena Bransten Gallery and the Scott Nichols Gallery in San Francisco. He is represented by Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica.