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2020 Portfolio Prize Runner-Up: Daniel Jack Lyons
Daniel Jack Lyons explores environmental peril and Indigenous youth culture in the Amazon.
The Earth’s lungs are in peril. With Brazil under the control of Jair Bolsonaro and his right-wing regime, illegal mining and agricultural expansion in the Amazon have recently contributed to catastrophic fires. While some image-makers captured dramatic aerial views of the spectacle of smoke and fire, Daniel Jack Lyons, a Los Angeles–based photographer who has spent much of his career focusing on the lives of youth subcultures—often in marginalized communities—was drawn to the largely unseen lives of young Indigenous people in the region.
A Portuguese speaker who had previously worked in Brazil, Lyons teamed up with a local community organizer based in a remote location in the Amazon and set out on a series of intimate portraits, realized in his characteristic soft, earthy palette. His photographs offer an individualized take on Indigenous communities in the region: his subjects are skateboarders, drag queens, heavy-metal fans, and farmers. “I wanted to document the banality of everyday life and the rebellious creativity it inspires,” Lyons says. “This universal impulse to express and affirm one’s individuality is resilient but at risk from a toxic mix of environmental degradation, violence, and discrimination. As another generation passes through the quotidian rites and rituals of adolescence, what sort of world will they inhabit and how much autonomy will they have over it?”
Daniel Jack Lyons’s background as a social anthropologist is very much at the heart of his practice as a photographer. His work, both personal and commissioned, focuses largely on marginalized youth, whether occupying spaces on the periphery of society or in the face of conflict. He employs collaborative methods that grant his subjects a greater sense of autonomy in guiding each project’s message, infusing Lyons’s work with a deeper creative spirit that often illuminates universal experiences. Creating this kind of work has taken him to Mozambique, Ukraine, New York, the Amazon, and Los Angeles. In each case, Lyons documents the particular expressions of joy, optimism, and concern that tap into the general insouciance and naiveté of “coming of age.” He is a regular contributor to the New York Times, More or Less, and Vogue Italia, and his body of work Hotel Luso was included in the exhibition Labs New Artists II at Red Hook Labs, Brooklyn, in 2018.
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