Fred Lyon, Renowned San Francisco Photographer, Dies at Age 97

Gerard Ortiz

“And then at the age of 80, he commences a career as a wonderful artwork photographer,” Meza stated — a career that was active appropriate up until eventually his passing. “He died doing work on two guide projects. And just this very last April, he had two publications out — mine, and he was the major contributor to yet another e book, “San Francisco, Portrait of a Town.”

Fetterman explained he had not encountered Lyon’s get the job done right before seeing an image identified as “Foggy Evening, Land’s Conclusion.”

“I assumed I realized a good deal about photographers and the record of photography,” Fetterman mentioned. When he came across “Foggy Night time,” he reported, “I was absolutely blown absent by it. I believed, ‘Why haven’t I read of this male? Who is this person? This person is a giant — any person who could make that variety of composition, I have to know a lot more about him.'”

Black and white night-time image with man, woman and car silhouetted in fog.
“Foggy Night time, Land’s End,” a 1953 graphic shot by San Francisco photographer Fred Lyon. (Fred Lyon/Peter Fetterman Gallery)


yon informed KQED’s Pat Yollin in a 2017 profile that he grew to become fascinated with photography early in his teenagers.

“Cameras were being shiny objects,” he claimed. “I realized a dude who had one particular and he usually seemed to have a great deal of sweet ladies all around him. I believed that if I experienced a digital camera, probably I would get ladies, way too.”

Lyon skipped two grades, graduated from Burlingame Large Faculty, apprenticed at a San Francisco images studio at age 14, then attended the Artwork Centre College in Los Angeles, wherever Ansel Adams was a instructor, a yr later on.

In a 2020 job interview with “California Search” collaborator Philip Meza, Lyon recalled how he joined Adams and a pick out handful of other students on a summer season excursion to Adams’ dwelling in Yosemite. He explained he took from Adams specific inventive tenets, these kinds of as Adams’ famed admonition, “There’s almost nothing worse than a extremely sharp graphic of a pretty fuzzy strategy.” But even then, Lyon mentioned, he realized he essential to turn into his own photographer.

“My sensation was that I could in no way master all Ansel understood,” Lyon reported. “I could never be much more than a miniature Ansel Adams if I attempted to be like him. I was in no way likely to turn out to be a landscape photographer. I always seem to require to include some of the will work of gentleman in my perform. Ansel was fantastic and inspirational, but I did not want to emulate what he was carrying out.”

Lyon was a Navy photographer throughout World War II, an assignment that took him to the White Dwelling, wherever he took a Xmas portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his prolonged family members in 1944. He photographed President Harry S. Truman on his first working day in the Oval Workplace next Roosevelt’s demise in April 1945.

Soon after the war, Lyon shot trend assignments in New York Metropolis in advance of returning to the Bay Space in 1946, the place his family’s flourishing true estate enterprise awaited him. But he had other ideas.

“Images was not truly an honorable occupation,” Lyon informed KQED in 2017. “It wasn’t a career at all. When our loved ones medical doctor identified out what I was performing, he stated, ‘Oh Frederick, that is no function for a man.’ But it truly is the best pursuit for an inherently nosy individual. You get to peek into everybody else’s daily life.”


ll as a result of his occupation, Lyon was quite occupied finding those people glimpses into the life of some others.

“We seemed at his perform logs — he logged in every single shoot he did from it’s possible 1940 on,” Rozis, who married Lyon 20 many years ago, mentioned Saturday. “There were being all types of appealing people today, from sports activities to fashion to architecture to movies. It can be just incredible. He explained, ‘When I search at these career logs, it helps make me fatigued.’ Just about every working day there were being two or far more shoots.”

Meza states that Lyon established out to develop into a functioning photographer, a mission at which he was fabulously effective, but did not think about himself an artist.

“Nevertheless, he did develop into one,” Meza explained, the evidence getting the enduring attraction of the visuals he captured. “If it is a generation or a lot more taken off from the viewer, like some of Fred’s great art images, it retains these powers and is not just a curiosity since it is antique. I consider his creative perception was derived from his considerable empathy, curiosity and intelligence.”

Two children sliding on cardboard down a steep street in San Francisco in 1952.
Young children road sledding down steep hill, North Beach front, San Francisco, 1952 (Fred Lyon)

Fetterman claims that, further than the excellent of his perform, Lyon stood out as an individual who embraced lifetime and other people.

“He was a joyous character,” Fetterman mentioned. “He was like Cary Grant. He was from a further period of appeal and manners and gracefulness — all of it real.”

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