“Things occur,” Nathan Lyons said, referring to how he starts making photographs, which has not changed for 60 years. “I simply collect images that I respond to, there’s no script to what I’m doing, it’s really based on my interaction with the things that I see that intrigue me or interest me or question me.”
But, what about things after they occur?
That’s when he arranges most of his photographs into diptychs, either on a wall or in a book. Suddenly two images take on a third meaning.
For “Return Your Mind to Its Upright Position,” a book and exhibition at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery in Manhattan, he placed an image of a rocking chair trapped inside a wire plant guard next to one of a city wall layered with scribbles: “ADHD” sprayed in large bubble letters and a smaller silk-screened message to “Reclaim your Life.” Suddenly, this trapped rocking chair framed alongside these messages takes on new meaning as metaphor.
“In metaphor, you are really taking two different elements and bringing them together to form a third,” said Mr. Lyons, 84. “It’s like Dylan Thomas, his use of the word ‘green’ in one of his poems, where he places it changes the implications of the color.”
This idea comes from his education as a poet. Born in Jamaica, Queens, to a family of mirror manufacturers, Mr. Lyons was expected to enter the family business. Rather than follow the path of expected courses at Alfred State University’s Technical College, however, he gravitated to summer classes in philosophy and creative writing.
When the poet Galway Kinnell asked students in his creative writing course at Alfred to complete the semester by submitting a poem, Mr. Lyons did not like this either. He walked to a bar miles away, drank whiskey, and wrote his way back through the thickets in a notepad, submitting it as his final poem.
He has been hooked on metaphors ever since.