Sarah Lyon makes large format photographs of people and places that are common in our surroundings and yet they reveal a stark beauty that we have failed to recognize. And for that we should be thanking her. In a time when American citizens are feeling the financial pinch of still being such a relatively young country, Sarah’s work proves that the landscape in which we live still counts for something.
I met Sarah in her Smoketown studio, which doubles as her place of residence. She told me to look for the door that reads “Beware of Dog.” She doesn’t own a dog; in fact, she detests them, and she’s really a nice person, so here within the irony lies. In minutes of meeting Sarah, Louisville came under a tornado warning. The sky turned angry and the National Weather Service sirens began their chilling wail. Sarah reassured me, “this is probably one of the safest places to be” and I can’t explain it, but I did feel a relative peace being there. I was offered coffee, but having had my morning fill, I declined.
Like most people, her place is scattered with the things that interest her. Mechanic tools, books, odd picture frames and musical instruments. Besides being a photographer, Sarah plays bass and guitar for the band Ritchie White Orchestra, which she says is the brainchild of Cesar Padilla. Music critic Jeffrey Lee Puckett said, “it's not the type of band you'd want to take your sister to."
Julie Gross: How did you get started with a camera?
Sarah Lyon: It was in ’98 and I just photographed my friends and parties and I was an activist in college. It was this group called the Feminist Majority. I was a musician and played in a band and I was the Rock for Choice coordinator. We would do shows and I would get bands to come in from out of town and then we would send all the profits to the main organization. The best thing about that was we brought together all these people on campus who didn’t know each other existed, so I would photograph the parties.
Do you still have the pictures from these parties?
What do you think of them now when you look back on them?
Oh, I love them. I was documenting my life as a way to remember. I would put all of my pictures up from the parties on my dorm room door and people loved looking at them. It was a really early Facebook. [laughs] Then I took a black and white photography class and a drawing class one summer when I was in Oxford [Ohio]. I always loved to make stuff and draw in high school but I never thought it was a viable thing, but then once I took that class I was like “oh I want this” so I started working in the darkroom all the time and switched my major to fine arts.
Do you still work in the darkroom?
I did one project that the Speed [Museum] bought actually, I had a big map of Louisville and I cut it all up and took them all out of order and threw a dart at it and then I would go and take a picture where the dart landed. It was a way to make myself go to places that I normally wouldn’t. I made a darkroom in my bathroom and printed all those pictures in my bathroom. [laughs] But normally, I don’t work in the darkroom. I shoot film and digital, but if I shoot film I scan it. In college I worked in the color darkroom, which I think that helped teach me about color theory and how to color correct, so I use that knowledge when I Photoshop.
A small sampling of Sarah's work