Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942) “Self-Portrait in Susquehanna Hotel, Third Floor Room with Grass, New York 1967.” Gelatin Silver Print.
The ceiling is out of the frame
but we know that it has long ago fallen in
because there is grass growing in the rubble
on the floor of the abandoned room.
Lyon stands in the doorway looking into the room
where he’s set the camera on a timer.
There is darkness in the corridor behind him
but the abandoned room is filled with outdoor light:
the light of a rural frolic or dejeuner sur l’herbe,
the high aspirational light of autumn in New York.
This light discovers Lyon angular and poker-faced
in the doorway but the grass is ambiguous.
It may or may not be the flag
of the photographer’s disposition
out of hopeful green stuff woven.
It may or may not be a riff
on Ozymandias or Ubi Sunt.
Maybe a nod to Ecclesiastes
on the flesh, maybe not.
The grass stands green in the black-and-white print:
persistent, rhizomatic, neither outdoors nor in.
Danny Lyon Rides with the Cossacks
There is terrible longing in Danny’s photos of the Outlaws —
longing for their bodies, lean in denim and leather
young and hard astride their raucous machines.
A longing, too, for the authority Danny saw in their weathered faces.
From a perspective it was easier for the photographer to assume in 1967
than it would be later on, the Outlaws knew the score:
knew all there was to know of contingency, non-attachment,
the aesthetics of dissent, outdoor cooking.
The Outlaws had made the Grand Refusal and Danny longed
to follow them down that negative way.
And a longing that arises sometimes in our people
to erase the marks of difference that separate us
from the natives, to disappear into their worlds:
the Brokerage, the Country Club, in Danny’s case
the phalanx of cheap Japanese bikes rolling west on U.S. 12,
exchanging one Midwestern sky for another.
In his photos of the Outlaw boys
— Funny Sonny riding bitch with Zipco,
Micah cooling on the grass
of an Indiana picnic ground,
the map of Appalachia on his features —
Danny was trying to find passage
into the goyish interior, trying to go native.
Danny Lyon (American b. 1942) “Demolition Men’s Headquarters, 38 Ferry St. 1967.” Gelatin Silver Print
The men themselves appear
in other photographs from Lyon’s
Destruction of Lower Manhattan (1969).
Here they are absent as Danny frames a wall
in the room where they leave their stuff.
Towels and clothes hang from nails here,
also an umbrella and a handled bag.
Below the hanging stuff are two old desk chairs
where a bag and a blanket sit.
Above the chairs and hanging stuff
are photographs of pin-up girls,
some topless some almost.
Even reduced by distance
and subdued in grayscale
the women’s breasts pull focus
in the composition.
This is a photograph of the male gaze:
of how the breasts code
the headquarters as masculine space,
and how the men decorate
the thing they will destroy.
Benjamin Goluboff teaches English at Lake Forest College. In addition to some scholarly publications, he has placed imaginative work -- poetry, fiction, and essays -- in many small-press journals, recently Unbroken, Bird’s Thumb, and War Literature and the Arts. He is the author of Ho Chi Minh: A Speculative Life in Verse, and Other Poems (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2017). Some of his work can be read at www.lakeforest.edu/academics/faculty/goluboff/