Daniel Jack Lyons informs his photographic practice with his professional experience in human rights work and documentary portraiture. The result is strikingly-rendered photographs that reveal the resilience and fragility of his subjects.
An American photographer who has spent a significant amount of time in Mozambique, Daniel Jack Lyons approaches his art with a mission in mind: changing the narratives around marginalised groups.
His work navigates the intersection of art and social sciences. With a masters in Medical Anthropology under his belt, Lyons approaches photography as a collaboration between photographer and subject.
In an interview with i-D, Lyons said:
“I always hope to capture a feeling that is authentic to the individual in the photo, a sincere moment or an intimate exchange. I’m very present when shooting, and for that reason my relationship with the participant is extremely important.”
Lyons centres his photographs on the individual. His portraits of the persecuted LGBTQ+ community in Mozambique highlight the cultural climate in which his subjects live.
The country’s national legislature has passed some of Africa’s most progressive anti-discrimination laws. These laws sparked a larger conversation that now allows LGBTQ+ people to come out and express their queer orientations. But the lived experiences of the community remains one affected by the country’s negative colonial-era view of queer relationships as “vices against nature”.
Consequently, LGBTQ+ relationships remain the other, facing constant threats of violence as well as exclusion from the family. Members of this community exist in the liminal space between the thresholds of segregation and acceptance.
To express this intermediary state, Lyons shot fifteen self-identified queer subjects at the art deco Hotel Luso. This space allowed the subjects some much-needed self-expression. The images are raw— each individual portrait captures the individual in intimate detail. The rich, earthy tones of the hotel form a sombre backdrop to this excursion into the innermost lives of fifteen queer people. As a member of the queer community himself, Lyons has found a family of sorts within the LGBTQ+ community in Mozambique.
“Currently there are no public spaces for queer people in Mozambique — no gay bars, no pride events. Hotel Luso became a symbol of that isolation, and an opportunity to reclaim, and queerify a space, if only for fleeting moments.”
Lyons investigates real-world conditions and uses them as the framework upon which to capture his subjects’ humanity. Another series, Displaced Youth, focuses on internally displaced Ukranian youth within the Russian military occupation. Huge numbers of Ukranian citizens have fled ongoing military operations, leading to an increased amount of citizens in urban centres. Many young people cannot find employment, resulting in swelling numbers moving to resettlement sites.
Many of these sites are former summer camp dormitories that have been repurposed. The series uses this setting to highlight the dissonance between the camps’ original purpose as one of leisure, to their current state. Displaced Youth documents young people living in a constant state of limbo.
“I wanted to create a series to remind us that any country can, at once, be a site of conflict and also a place where young people have few obligations or cares beyond the yearnings of being young. I wanted people outside of Ukraine to relate to the photos, and take an interest in their stories, not because of a noticeable difference, but rather due to a sense of similarity.”
The series is a reminder of the irrepressible nature of youth. The subjects depicted appear no different to the models found in carefree magazine photoshoots. The frames could be stills from an indie film. And yet, the individuals represented are experiencing immense hardship. The frames show their youthful fragility as well as their strength in the face of adversity.
A current of human emotion threads throughout Lyons’ photography. The interplay between his human rights work and art projects allows the subjects’ lives to be understood from multiple standpoints, and approached as a collaborative effort between artist and subject. His photography is a compelling illustration of the power of genuine, fleeting interactions captured on film.
“I am perpetually inspired by people’s resilience in the face of harrowing obstacles… everyone, no matter the country or culture, has a story of struggle that they have overcome in some way. I always try to shoot from a perspective that celebrates that vitality in a positive light.”
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