The Garden Court at the Palace Hotel is still a popular venue today
Fred Lyon, San Francisco photographer whose photo of the Cliff House appears on this month’s cover, has a new book of his photography being distributed this month. It’s called San Francisco Then and features classic black-and-white photographs of San Francisco in the forties and fifties.
Fourth generation San Franciscan Fred Lyon began his professional career at 14 apprenticing at Moulin Studio, a well-known photo studio at the time. Later Lyon studied at Art Center College in Los Angeles, and during World War II, served as a U.S. Navy photographer in Washington D.C., shooting feature stories and covering the White House. Following the war, he pursued fashion photography in New York City. Returning to San Francisco in 1946, Lyon built a career with magazines ranging from Vogue and House & Garden to Life and Sports Illustrated.
Lyon became well known for the range of his photographic diversity. His work has appeared not only in major magazines but also in more than 50 books. In 1949, the San Francisco Museum of Art gave him his first one-man show. A solo exhibition entitled “The Bridges of San Francisco” was held at the Palace of the Legion of Honor and also at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1955.
Modernbook Editions is the publisher of San Francisco Then and its gallery represents Lyon. The book accompanies the gallery exhibition of his prints that opened this month and runs through August.
San Francisco Then is Lyon’s love letter to his birthplace. It bursts with the energy and affection that has driven him to photograph the City nonstop for more than 70 years. Graphically strong black-and-white images, characteristic of mid-century photography, reveal a vibrant city at a time when streetcars ruled Market Street, the port of San Francisco was humming, and hats were de rigueur with the ladies.
This book is also the result of Lyon’s more recent treasure hunt through thousands of negatives, many untouched since their creation. The images chosen for the book represent a small selection of the moments that caught Lyon’s eye when this country was filled with postwar optimism and San Francisco in particular was exploding with life. It was an intoxicating time, expressed in crisp black-and-white drama.
Fittingly, Willie Brown Jr., San Francisco’s irrepressible former mayor, has written the book’s introduction, which embraces both the excitement and innocence of San Francisco then.
“San Francisco Then”: Modernbook Gallery, 49 Geary (between Grant & Kearny), 415-732-0300, www.modernbook.com. Through August 28.