Nathan Lyons, one of the most influential proponents of photography as fine art and as a field of academic study, passed away on August 31 at age 86. We are deeply saddened.
After graduating from Alfred University in 1957, Lyons was hired by Beaumont Newhall to work at George Eastman House as the director of public information and assistant editor of Image magazine. In 1960, he was appointed assistant director and in 1965, promoted to associate director. He organized important exhibitions on both contemporary and historic photography, with an emphasis on emerging photographers. Lyons had an immeasurable impact in developing the museum’s collection and advancing photographic exhibition and scholarship. He was undoubtedly one of the most important contributors to our institution.
In 1969, in a reasonable response to the museum’s inappropriate dismissal of his assistant without consulting him, Lyons resigned his position at Eastman House—and the immediate and long-term loss to the institution was incalculable. That year, he founded Visual Studies Workshop, which began publishing the influential journal Afterimage in 1972. As a scholar, teacher, and visionary leader, Lyons mentored or launched the careers of numerous curators, scholars, and critics who have played an essential role in photography’s being accepted and embraced by museums as an art form. A collection of his essays, lectures, and interviews—edited by Jessica S. McDonald—has been published by the University of Texas Press.
Throughout his adult life, Lyons remained an active and innovative photographer. In 2018, the Eastman Museum will be presenting a major survey of his photographic work— curated by Lisa Hostetler and Jamie M. Allen— to be accompanied by a scholarly publication.
Nathan is survived by his wife, Joan—an artist, photographer, and art bookmaker—and a daughter, two sons, and six grandchildren.
A memorial gathering for Lyons will be held at Visual Studies Workshop on November 19.
Bruce Barnes, PhD
Ron and Donna Fielding Director