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Sunday, 24 February 2013

Danny Lyon: Second Ward, El Paso (1972)


El Paso's Chicano neighborhood, the Second Ward, a classic "barrio" along the Mexican border, with its adobe houses and nineteenth-century brick Presidio apartments, is slowly losing its ethnic flavor and giving way to urban renewal: photos by Danny Lyon (1942-) for the Environmental Protection Agency's Documerica project, June/July 1972 (US National Archives)


Tom said...

Dear Tom, good to see these. Anything of Danny Lyons' is worth attention. Greetings from 5am Seattle. Love, Tom

Anonymous said...

interesting photos...some remember "West side story"..!

TC said...


So you've survived two weeks of it... and looking fit and hardy there in the doorway beside the sleepless trash bins.

Wooden Boy said...

The boy looking down from the wooden stairwell into the alley is the one that sticks for me. The customized chopper comes a close second; the kind of bike I aspired to but was never going to get (the old man disapproved of such creations).

The camera looking in on some of those street exchanges fascinates me - difficult seeming intimacy. Everything framed perfectly, of course.


Beautiful photos of this world, another Strange Pastoral.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

El Paso Blues

Down shall come the old
To make way for the new

So don’t stand in the way of progress
If you know what’s good for you.

TC said...

I was in El Paso in 1972, as it happens, doing a reading at UTEP. That was in March, three or four months before Danny Lyon's terrific set of photos. They bring back the cool of the denizens and the brilliant dry hot light.

The work of a master of his art, at the top of his game. Lyon was 29 at the time. One can feel, here, that he has the trust of his subjects, and moves among them without any of the patronising social distance one might expect. No easy thing that.

I regard this portfolio as one of the most valuable in the great Documerica collection.


The body language in the shots with human figures was meant to be a unifying graphic element in the editing of this selection.

That boy looking down, with baseball bat, is round the back of the Armijo Community Center, which is seen in front street view in the sixth-from-bottom photo.

It's still there, in a way... but talking of urban renewal, it's grown a bit since then.

TC said...

Perhaps it goes without saying, but the depth and quality of colour tones in this classic Danny Lyon series -- and in the other great sets produced by the Documerica photographers -- have been lost forever, sacrificed to the digital "revolution".

The end of Kodachrome was a great loss.

And indeed, the purists lamented its demise.

Nora said...

The light in these photos is amazing.

TC said...

They say California has a great clarity and brightness to its light.

Well, once upon a time, maybe.

But never anything to match the dry bright clarity of the desert light of El Paso.

(Like the movies, Kodachrome was made for this, though it surely didn't die of it, as the movies have done -- unless you can find some signs of life wiggling-about amid the xenophobic propaganda-storms of terminal drek like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty & c.)