Wanderer is a show of new and vintage work by photographer and filmmaker Danny Lyon.
This is Lyon’s first major exhibition since his 2016 Whitney retrospective. An artist whose work is always anchored in place, Wanderer features Lyon’s prints, montages and films from the American West – especially the town of Bernalillo, where he lives, and the Mexican- American border.
In 1970, Lyon, a New York native, moved to the small village of Llanito, New Mexico, in the Rio Grande Valley, north of Albuquerque. There he began making photographs and films of his neighbors, their children, and the local labor force, all undocumented workers from Mexico.
One of these was Eddie, a Mexican national and undocumented worker, whom Lyon met when Eddie was fleeing from Immigration, which Mexican workers called “La Migra”. Lyon and Eddie worked together to build an adobe home, and Lyon became Eddie’s coyote, each year smuggling him back into the United States. In return, Eddie agreed to be filmed for Lyon’s 1971 film EL MOJADO, on view here. The title translates literally to “The Wet One” but Americans used it as “wetback” – a slur, then in common usage, that references the river many Mexican migrants wade through to reach the States. In the film, the Border Patrol discuss the pleasure they take in tracking and capturing Mexicans: “This is the most interesting part of the job. We really like this, you know, because it’s just like a hunter, you know, only you’re stalking a human being – and that really makes it a lot more fun.” Previously believed lost, El Mojado has been digitally remastered from the only known surviving print.
In 1978, Danny Lyon and his wife Nancy visited Maricopa County, Arizona. At the time Maricopa was made up of huge citrus groves and a few retirement centers. With the help of the United Farm Workers labor union, who were then working to organize the area’s workers, Lyon met the Garays: a family from Queretaro, near Mexico City, that, each year, illegally crossed the border to work at the citrus farms. The Garays are the central figures in El OTRO LADO (The Other Side). In the film, the workers sing as they work, “Our problem could easily be solved/give each of us a Gringita, then we can immigrate. As soon as we have our green card, we can be divorced.”
Wanderer (2017), shown here for the first time anywhere, is the centerpiece of the exhibition. A forty-eight minute film, Lyon made the work alone, using a digital video camera that weighed less than a pound. Wanderer revisits many of the subjects depicted in the photographs on display in the show – especially members the Jaramillo family. In 1992, five years after Danny and Nancy finished the film that bears his name, Willie Jaramillo died in the Sandoval County jail in Bernalillo. Among the subjects in Wanderer are Willie’s younger brother Ferney, Ferney’s friend Dennis Baca, his sister Gloria, and his niece Janice, all of whom speak with great openness and emotion to Lyon.
Wanderer is the name of Lyon’s new film, and the name of the show. It is the work of an artist that has the unique ability to use photography, prints, film and writing to record and create an America that he loves – a world that is at once beautiful, emotionally powerful, and threatened.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)