Rochester NY: Nathan Lyons, founder of the Visual Studies Workshop and former photography curator for the George Eastman House died Wednesday August 31, 2016. The longtime Rochester resident was 86. After serving in the Air Force, Mr. Lyons graduated from Alfred University in 1957 and joined the staff of the George Eastman House (now the George Eastman Museum). He served as the editor of the museum’s Image magazine and was later named associate director.
While there, Mr. Lyons helped to shape public appreciation for photography and its impact on people’s perception of the world around them. He promoted the work of new artists, both through exhibitions and publications which he edited. During the 1960s, he began a series of exhibitions on the work of young contemporary photographers, and later organized a series of important exhibitions on both contemporary and historic photography.
A 2000 New York Times article said that his work as a curator helped broaden approaches to photography, but noted that the impact of his work did not necessarily lead to personal notoriety. “Mr. Lyons has had a major impact on his field for close to four decades, yet very few people other than photographers and photography experts know his name, and not even many experts are familiar with much of his work. He left the Eastman House in 1969 and founded the independent Visual Studies Workshop for graduate study, championing a new approach to the study of photography. “Before, the few places that offered photographic studies based them on the formalist art-historical model,” the Times said. “The workshop considered photography and related media in the context of popular culture and cultural history.”
Mr. Lyons served as director of the Visual Studies Workshop for 32 years. While there, he launched the influential publication, Afterimage, a journal of media arts and cultural criticism. Lisa Hostetler, the Eastman Museum’s current curator of photography, called Mr. Lyons one of the most important and accomplished people in the photography community, in a blog post Thursday.
“Nathan was a regular presence in the Rochester arts community, where he will be sorely missed,” she wrote.”His absence from the global community of artists will be felt equally profoundly. As for those of us in the photography community—which exists in part because of him—we will always feel him there with his camera, noticing everything and sharing its resonance.”
A renowned and influential photographer in his own right, Mr. Lyons published six books of his work, including After 9/11 and Riding 1st Class on The Titanic. He received the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography in 2000 for lifetime achievement in photography. An exhibition of his work is available at the Workshop’s website, VSW,org.
Mr. Lyons is survived by his wife, Joan and other loving family and friends. He was a Veteran of the United States Air Force.