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Nathan Lyons

Nathan Lyons
In Pursuit of Magic

A moving retrospective of the revered photographer whose career as a curator, educator, and critic spanned more than half a century—and whose contributions to the craft of photography have left an enduring imprint.

George Eastman Museum
February 2019
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304 pages | 10.5 x 9.5 | 90 color photos, 157 b&w photos |

Launching his curatorial career at the George Eastman House in 1957, Nathan Lyons (1930–2016) soon made a mark in the museum world and in his workshops for photographers and curators alike. Yet his supporting role in the careers of rising stars such as Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand sometimes eclipsed the public’s awareness of Lyons’s own pioneering photography. Coinciding with a major exhibition at the George Eastman Museum in 2019, Nathan Lyons: In Pursuit of Magic is a long-overdue celebration of Lyons’s astonishing body of work.

Featuring more than two hundred and fifty compelling images, accompanied by critical essays, the book charts the distinct phases of Lyons’s career. His early work, exemplified by his exuberant initiatives of the 1960s—the Visual Studies Workshop and the Society for Photographic Education—demonstrated that street photography and formalism are not mutually exclusive, as university photography courses began migrating from journalism to art departments. His final years, which included a shift to color at age eighty, are also explored in depth. A companion to Nathan Lyons: Selected Essays, Lectures, and Interviews, this is the definitive visual sourcebook on a highly influential innovator.

  • Foreword by Bruce Barnes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Moments in a Real World, by Jessica S. McDonald
  • Early Works: 1957–1963
  • Notations in Passing: 1963–1973 (published in 1974)
  • Both/And, Not Either/Or: Representation versus Abstraction, by Lisa Hostetler
  • Riding 1st Class on the Titanic!: 1974–1998 (published in 1999)
  • After 9/11: 2001–2002 (published in 2003)
  • Return Your Mind to Its Upright Position: 1999–2009 (published in 2014)
  • In Pursuit of Magic, by Jamie M. Allen
  • Diptychs: 2001–2004
  • Color: 2013–2016
  • Selected Chronology by Jessica S. McDonald
  • Selected Bibliography by Jessica S. McDonald
  • Photography Credits
  • About the Contributors

Lisa Hostetler and Jamie M. Allen
Rochester, New York

Hostetler is Curator in Charge and Allen is Associate Curator of the Department of Photography at the George Eastman Museum.

Jessica S. McDonald
Austin, Texas

McDonald is Curator of Photography at the Harry Ransom Center and the editor of Nathan Lyons: Selected Essays, Lectures, and Interviews, a companion volume to Nathan Lyons: In Pursuit of Magic.

George Eastman Museum

p>Founded in 1947 and located in Rochester, New York, on the estate of George Eastman, a pioneer of photography and film, the Eastman Museum is the world's oldest photography museums and one of the oldest film archives, with major collections in photography and cinema and their technologies, as well as photography books.


“Nathan Lyons worked outside mainstream aesthetics, eschewing pomposity, while capturing wonderment amid everyday banality.”
New York Times

“[Nathan Lyons] offers us a look at Lyons's final work, which sends us back to the beginning to search his career again for new levels of meaning.”
Photo District News

Nathan Lyons: In Pursuit of Magic details his vision and demonstrates its relevance for a new, visually sophisticated audience.”
The Eye of Photography

Nathan Lyons: In Pursuit of Magic presents a compelling case for the Lyons' view of photography as a form of language. And language arts aside, it is filled with beautifully crafted photographs that capture the wonderment of the everyday world.”
The PhotoBook Journal

“This collection of never-before-seen color photographs pays close attention to signage, ads, street art and graffiti. It's as if Lyons were using the camera to edit the chaos of images and texts created by others into something understandable, with a meaning that's greater than the sum of its parts.”
PDN Online