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Capturing the SouthImagining America's Most Documented Region$
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Scott L. Matthews

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469646459

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469646459.001.0001

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Documenting SNCC and the Rural South

Documenting SNCC and the Rural South

Danny Lyon and the Cultural Politics of Civil Rights Movement Photography

(p.156) Chapter Four Documenting SNCC and the Rural South
Capturing the South

Scott L. Matthews

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines the cultural politics of civil rights movement photography by analysing the work of Danny Lyon who worked as a photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee between 1962 and 1964. It explores how documentarians such as Robert Frank, Walker Evans, and James Agee inspired Lyon’s documentary work and how the political culture of the New Left influenced his work’s reception. The chapter first focuses on Lyon’s photographs of black SNCC activists in the South, particularly Robert Moses. Lyon’s photographs of Moses helped spread a romantic mythology around Moses and SNCC that was useful in recruiting white liberal support up North. Lyon also photographed the rural South’s landscapes and people extensively. Many in the New Left romanticized rural black southerners as true outsiders, the authentic opposites of their industrialized and commercialized societies back home. Consequently, Lyon’s photographs had the capacity to aestheticize the same conditions that SNCC recognized as the source of black subjugation. The chapter also highlights how these images and themes appeared and circulated in a civil rights movement photography book, The Movement, which Lyon contributed to and helped produce.

Keywords:   Danny Lyon, civil rights movement, photography, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Robert Frank, New Left, Robert Moses, Walker Evans, James Agee

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