Marcus Lyon (b. 1965) is a British artist. His works and publications are held in both private and international collections including the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Arts Council of Great Britain. He has been commissioned and exhibited globally. Born and raised in rural Britain, Lyon studied Political Science at Leeds University, Leadership at Harvard Business School and Performance Measurement at the Kennedy School of Government. His early working life with Amnesty International in Latin America was the inspiration for his twenty-five year exploration of the issues at the heart of globalisation.
In the early 90’s he founded the Glassworks, an award-winning multidisciplinary art studio that acts as a gallery, exhibition venue and centre of excellence for commissioned and original art. As a portrait artist he has photographed a diverse range of public figures from Queen Elizabeth II, to Bill Nighy and the last four British Prime Ministers. His images have won numerous awards and nominations including the B&H Gold Award, Agfa Photographer of the Year, Prix Pictet 2012 & 2013, a D&AD Silver and five AOP’s. He has created extensive bodies of work around the subjects of disability sport and development, with particular focus on the urban space. The early 21st century saw his work move from the micro to the macro with the formation of the large scale BRIC, EXODUS and TIMEOUT series: explorations of our global mass behaviours. In recent years he has undertaken significant collaborative commissions producing large-scale imagery in the science/art arena, most notably his Optogenome series with Kings College and AstraZeneca. His most recent body of work, Somos Brasil (2017), that explores Brazilian identity through a series of sound and DNA enabled portraits, was recently featured as a TED talk.
Outside of the art world Lyon is a determined social entrepreneur and an active public speaker. In the not for profit sector he serves on the board of the Somerset House Trust and Leaders’ Quest and is a Founder Ambassador for both BLESMA, Home-Start UK and the global think-tank The Consortium for Street Children. Currently he lives between central London and Brazil with his wife, Bel and their daughter Florence (2010) and their son Arthur (2012).
My early work took me to the slums and ghettos of the developing world to explore issues surrounding street children and child labour. I was then, and remain now, inspired by the resilience and adaptive skills of humanity at the edge. The ability en masse to negotiate the chaos of changing environments left a deep and lasting mark on my visual mind. And thus for the last twenty-five years my practice has centred on a search for meaning about our global mass behaviours.
Emotionally and environmentally these mass ideas, actions, movements of people, production processes, and the titans of political and consumer power that house them, are so huge that no single image can define their influence. So I have endeavoured to create new visual languages within which I can communicate a deeper truth. The results depict landscapes without horizons, built from a myriad of perspectives, each one familiar to the inhabitants of these environments and yet intriguingly new: mirroring the multiple patterns of creation and migration that feed these homage’s to the human will to conquer and adapt in the name of the future.
In the Press
GUARDIAN – My Best Shot by Karin Andreasson (19/02/2016)
I was in Dubai in 2010, doing a speech for a charity, when I discovered the amazing Sheikh Zayed Road. It has 12 lanes, tall buildings and skyscrapers on either side, and stretches right through the middle of the city. I booked a hotel next to it so that I could get up on to the roof. I was probably up there for about an hour and a half, hanging over, shooting straight down. You get a bit dizzy doing that.
The photograph started out as a little sketch in a book, though, just some lines, dots and ideas. Initially, I wanted to do something more music-based, but it morphed into a representation of my petrol-using life. It’s a composite of about 1,000 photos, and it took three months to make. I have a whole team of people who work with me to create an image like this, although I’m in charge of the idea. There are 750 vehicles in the end result, and they represent the 750,000 miles that I and the average car-owner will drive in a lifetime.
Part of the thinking behind the work is that people are too visually literate and the world too fabulously complicated for me to say what I want in a single shot. So I bring multiple images together to create a greater truth. I think an image taken at 125th of a second is kind of a lie: it’s a moment captured in time, but then it disappears. With multiple images, I can go deeper, be subversive. So when people see this mega road I’ve created, they instantly ask questions. Is that really the world we live in? Is this image real or not? Where do I fit in to all of this?
Although I cut my teeth on large-format photography, I now use digital cameras and computer manipulation. But I think it’s essential to make sure the perspective is still correct and the image works from one point of view. So, at the top of this picture, I made sure that you see slightly more of the sides of the buses than you do at the bottom, where you would be looking straight down on them.
In the modern world, photography is instantly disposable. What I think is fascinating about images made this way is that they are really gluey. You get mesmerised by them. Your eyes are drawn to the whole composition, yet they can’t quite settle anywhere. As a final touch on all my creations, I insert a little Marcus. In this one, I’m in the top left-hand corner riding a bicycle.
Born: Exeter, 1965.
Studied: Political science at Leeds university
High point: “Today.”
Low point: “None. I’m annoyingly ebullient and cheerful.”
Top tip: “Have ideas, work hard and reinvent.”
Exhibition: Timeout and Exodus are in a pop-up show at Somerset House, London WC2, until 22 April. To arrange a viewing, call 020 7735 9933.
TELEGRAPH – Migrations, megacities and mankind on the move by Cam (10/02/2015)
With his large scale works – Exodus and Timeout – photographic artist Marcus Lyon explores themes of consumption and migration in an ever-shrinking world.
Lyon has travelled the world, from Los Angeles to London via Hong Kong and beyond, to create limited edition images of mass transit systems, transport hubs and huge urban conurbations – claustrophobic vistas which seem to go on and on. Strangely formal yet abstract these aerial images are at once fantasy and reality.
His technique is simply but painstaking. Lyon splices together hundreds of images from an existing scene (usually shot from above) to create an agglomeration which mirrors global themes of rampant consumption, massive urban sprawl and the huge gulf between rich and poor. If these chaotic scenes seem too large to be true it’s because they are.
“Emotionally and environmentally these mass ideas, actions, movements of people, production processes … are so huge that no single image can define their influence,” says Lyon. “So I have endeavoured to create new visual languages within which I can communicate a deeper truth.”
The work is speculative. How will the world look in 10, 20 years time? Perhaps Lyon has shown us.
PHAIDON Marcus Lyon’s photos from the future by Alex Rayner (02/02/15)
The British image maker explains how his landscapes capture our globalised world at its most extreme.
When I was born, in 1965, there were a billion people living in the urban environment,” says the British photographer Marcus Lyon. “Now there are closer to four billion, and by the time we get to 2030, there will be five billion. That’s one of the great migrations of our time.”
Lyon worked as a reportage photographer for the likes of Amnesty International in the developing world throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, shooting images in the slums and ghettos of the rapidly growing cities of Latin America, Asia and Africa.
When, in 2008, the UN estimated that, for the first time, more than half of the world’s population was now living in urban areas, Lyon felt the urge to document this change. Yet he knew that no one image could accurately represent this reality. Instead, over recent years he has been creating a series of finely manipulated photomontages that capture our urban, mechanised, out-of-kilter world.
His BRICs artworks, created 2008-10, conjure up the dizzying megacities of Brazil, Russia, India and China; his Exodus images, made 2009 – 2014, exaggerate the shipping traffic, flight paths, road systems and freight yards that serve this urban expansion; while his newest works, Timeout, currently on show in the 1st floor of the West Wing of London’s Somerset House until 1 June, considers our mass pursuits – from gargantuan golf-course complexes to endless yacht marinas – of the globe’s new leisure class.
Stylistically, the pictures might bring to mind the Düsseldorf School of photography, yet Lyon, while deeply flattered by the comparison, tries to draw from more diverse influences. His images, although manipulated, often reference genuine current-affairs, such as the tin-shack communities built on the Cape Flats outside Cape Town, sometimes described as apartheid’s dumping ground; or the West Lamma Channel in the South China Sea, one of the world’s most congested shipping lanes.
“I research the images in depth, by reading a lot of books, and articles in The Economist,” says the photographer. “To be honest, I’d say [Nobel Prize winning plant geneticist] Norman Borlaug is more of an influence than Andreas Gursky.”
Lyon, who was nominated for the Prix Pictet in 2013 and 2014, and is short-listed for the 2015 Aesthetica Art Prize, says he drafts his ideas on paper, before shooting the constituent images, often from high vantage point or chartered helicopters with the doors removed: “Then over periods of up to three months my team and I create wire frames to then meticulously build the images,” he explains.
He hopes these tweaked versions of our interconnected world will inspire dynamic conversations about our role in globalisation, yet audience reaction varies enormously. “Some people see the aesthetic and a sense of progress and opportunity,” he says, “others see a nightmare image of our future, and others don’t question it at all and see a reality.” And, perhaps, in a few years’ time, they will be.
Find out more about Marcus here; you can also view his Timeout series at weekdays at 101, 1st floor West Wing, Somerset House in London until June.
WIRED.COM by Alyssa Coppleman (20/01/2015)
Photographer Marcus Lyon’s images of crammed megacities and never-ending highways might make you feel like going off the grid. In his claustrophobic series BRICs, Exodus, and Timeout, Lyon creates large-scale visions of globalization and human activity. The images aren’t just photos of Moscow or Mumbai or Marina del Rey, but composites of hundreds of images meant to overwhelm you with the enormity of it all. Lyon’s photographs are minutely planned to the last detail, sometimes years before they are made. After conceptualizing the image in his head—which requires tremendous research and strategizing—he flies over a specific location just once, photographing the ground below. Lyon then digitally stitches together as many as 1,000 photographs to achieve an image that drowns the viewer in congested chaos. The intricate compositions are an artful commentary on humanity’s never-ending expansion and consumption, and the vast chasm between the rich and poor. “Emotionally and environmentally these mass ideas, actions, movements of people, production processes, and the titans of political and consumer power that house them, are so huge that no single image can define their influence,” Lyon says of the work. “So I have endeavored to create new visual languages within which I can communicate a deeper truth.” From Los Angeles to Hong Kong, each photo teems with urbanization. In Lyon’s dystopian vision of the world, there is nary a tree to be seen, and the world is overrun with planes, trains and automobiles swarming across the globe. Lyon weaves his images together so seamlessly that the megacities and mass transit systems he fashions almost could be mistaken for the real thing. Though the work is fiction, the images are familiar, even intriguing, enough to create what feels like a vision of a future that is in some ways already upon us. Considering last week’s news that we’re on the precipice of causing the mass extinction of ocean life, Lyon’s work as a whole serves as a visual prompt to consider more seriously the havoc humankind is wreaking on this planet.
Images from Exodus and Timeout are on view at Somerset House in London through June 1st.
LYON VIDEO on LENS CULTURE by Jim Casper (17/01/2015)
Marcus Lyon has been pursuing his interest in globalization for decades, using both words and pictures to express his vision of the surrounding world. His investigations have taken him across the globe and led him to explore the phenomenon of development through a wide-range of subjects: the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China), the mass migrations of the 21st century and, most recently, the ways in which we spend our leisure time today. Lyon is a visionary photographer who is filled with great ideas and the drive to turn these ideas into reality. We hope you draw some inspiration from the video interview above and the wide range of works he has created during his career, many of which can be found right here, on LensCulture.
LANDMARK in New York Times (07/12/2014)
Vast in its range is William A. Ewing’s LANDMARK: The Fields of Landscape Photography (Thames & Hudson), which covers the world and then some: Among its hundreds of photographs are pictures taken of and from outer space. But variety — topical, procedural, attitudinal — is the point. Nothing in the universe is alien to landscape photography, the book argues, from Philippe Chancel’s view of the construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which looks like a cover illustration from a 1950s science-fiction pulp, to Elger Esser’s hazy scene on the Sacramento River, which looks like a sepia-tone 19th-century panorama of the Nile. The subject, however, is the present, and the present is mostly alarming. Marcus Lyon’s depiction of Cape Flats, South Africa, is a perpendicular aerial view, bisected by a highway, with the left half apparently untouched woods and river and the right half a township whose houses are jammed together so tightly their roofs look like stones in a wall. There are pictures of war, of war re-enactments, of psychedelic-looking heavy-metal tailings, of ecological collapse. There are fictional landscapes made with Photoshop, and there are landscapes that look fictional but aren’t — Walter Niedermayr’s vast scene of many evenly spaced skiers on a single slope is, against all appearances, neither movie magic nor a diorama populated by miniatures. The book delivers a pair of oddly coupled messages: The planet is in deep trouble, and its trauma makes for eye candy.
LYON by Lydia Goldblatt (2014)
Marcus Lyon’s large-format photographs sit within a visionary canon of photographic practice, drawing formal and conceptual influence from artists such as Ed Ruscha, the Bechers and Andreas Gursky. He works in series, exploring pressing themes of global expansion and social migration through a number of projects including Brics (2008-2010) and Exodus (2009-2011). Yet a large part of the work’s intrigue is derived beyond its political underpinning.
In each of his series Lyon takes as his starting point an existing landscape, usually photographing from an elevated geographical position. He uses these photographed elements to carefully assemble fantastical landscapes of epic proportions (print sizes extend to 160cm x 80cm). The final works are recognisable as the geographies from which they originate yet strangely distended. Brightly coloured cars and houses dot the landscapes, parallel lines of windows guide the eye, repeating patterns of trees lead us to question their singularity, and the occasional person appears, dwarfed by his surroundings. Marked by a formal abstraction, the images build kaleidoscopic arrangements into vibrating colour fields, combining astonishing detail with aerial scale.
These are beautiful images, but the beauty is that of rupture. Voids, trails, and breaks in pattern score their way through the compositions, fracturing the surface symmetry to create a curious response in the viewer. We are both seduced and alienated. Despite the details that draw us in, the monumentality of the images and their aloof physical perspective creates distance. The effect is one in which the whole subsumes the individual, a claustrophobic allusion to mankind’s subjugation at the hands of its own invention. Such extreme physical proximity conversely suggests isolation, and brings to mind the art historical precedent of Caspar David Friedrich. Friedrich’s landscapes invoked the sublime in nature by situating the human figure as a small detail within an infinite expanse. Yet where Friedrich refers to the infinity of nature, Lyon outlines the frighteningly inexorable capacity of human production, expansion and consumption. These are landscapes without horizon, its conscious elimination frustrating perception and suggesting an uncontainable growth that transcends even the borders between earth and sky.
Lyon’s work draws on his background of social advocacy and environmentalism, yet his images recall science fiction. In their construction, the compositions allude visually to religion and technology, suggesting vast cathedral-like spaces and the all-seeing complexity of the computer motherboard. Unlike Gursky, who meticulously veiled unwanted elements from existing environments, Lyon lays bare the construction that is his methodology. He builds a kind of fantastical allegory that almost revels in its depiction of human endeavour and failure. These are images that strike a warning note, borne out of a very human, emotional and even spiritual intent.
Marcus Lyon by Tim Ashley (2013)
It’s time to return to the meat of our mission: image making itself. And on the spectrum that runs from image taking (the passive photographic capture of an existing scene) to image making (the management of a scene pre & post-capture), Lyon is far towards the latter. He doesn’t merely wander around looking for an interesting or attractive scene: he works in conceptual series, planning the meaning of his work in advance and then researching carefully so as to best find locations that match the brief he has set himself. In this, his genes stretch directly back to the work of Ed Ruscha, an artist whose work heralded the idea of seriality in popular modern photography and went on to influence a variety of practitioners from the Bechers to Gursky and Burtynsky.
Of course the documentary intent is easy to map onto any serial work but in truth it is not always there in significant portion. In Lyon’s work, however, it is central. These are conceptual series, which start with a perception of some particular aspect of the world and then engage with the pursuit of images, which provide the narrative to illustrate that point.
Oh, and I should mention that they are beautiful. Gobsmackingly, gorgeously, richly beautiful. And huge, as is the fashion for work in this genre; underneath the abstraction that Lyon uses to draw the viewer in from a distance is a stunning quantity of tiny, perfect detail. The distant image that looks like a constructivist composition is, in fact, an aerial view of a shipping container facility. Those pointillist arrays of coloured specks are automobiles, captured whilst hanging from a helicopter. He moves both from the general to the specific conceptually and from the impression to the specific visually and this is the key: the abstractions and the specifics are both vital parts of the narrative. In particular, in Exodus, the series shown here, the narrative is about the relationship between individuals and their increasingly globalised swarms. It is a documentary* about the ways in which individuals relate to their larger and more corporate manifestations, their domestic, social and economic selves represented at a level beyond the tribal and into the scale of the mega-hive, in which their individuality is subsumed and against the flows of which they are powerless. So the macro and the micro representations of human existence are two sides of the same narrative coin, matched by Lyon’s visual technique.
This matching of visual method to narrative intent is subtle, sophisticated, and rare. Another rare thing about his work is that he has absolutely no interest in equipment per se. Though clearly technically highly competent (and I know that he wields a 4×5 film camera with the same skill as he handles a digital SLR), if you ask him what camera he uses, he will say ‘Canon.’ And if you ask which model, he will simply look confused. And yet these images, stitched from multiple frames (even when captured from aircraft) look as if they have been shot on Medium Format Digital rather than 35mm and this is true even when you cross the room and get your nose right up against them.
Marcus is a man who has travelled the world both widely and deeply, and more often than not with the aim of helping others. Whether with Amnesty International, Photovoice or the Consortium for Street Children, his roots are fundamentally empathic. He may well have photographed the Queen (and more prime ministers than you can shake a stick at) and it is certainly true that he has been nominated for the Pictet, won a shedload of awards and prizes and exhibited everywhere: but at its roots his work is about empathy, not photographic stardom.
EXODUS – Somerset House, London, UK
STADIA – ROSIZO Museum, Moscow, Russia
BRICS – Festival de la Luz, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Photovisa – Krasnodar Gallery, Krasnodar, Russia
ARTRIO – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Galeria Tempo – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
L’Armour Atomique – Palais Des Arts, Dinard, France
PHOTO 51 – Inigo Rooms, King’s College, London, UK
EXODUS – Spiridonov House, Moscow, Russia
SPARTE – Galleria Tempo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Landmark: The Fields of Photography – Somerset House, London, UK
BRICS & EXODUS – Inception Gallery, Paris, France
Fotofever – Brussels, Belgium
The Paralympics – The Olympic Hospital, Homerton Health Trust, London, UK
EXODUS – 1508, London, UK
BRICS – The Cinnamon Club, The City, London, UK
Arts Council Collection – Portcullis House, Houses of Parliament, London, UK
BRICS – Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea, London, UK
BRICS – Thompsons, Marylebone, London, UK
The Paralympics – British Airways HQ, Heathrow, UK
The Paralympics – Lovell’s, London, UK
BRICS The Mega City – Dinaburg Arts, New York, USA
The Paralympics – Citibank, Canary Wharf, London, UK
Photovoice – Reuters, Canary Wharf, London, UK
Streetlife – Association Gallery, Shoreditch, London, UK
Glassworks I – The Glassworks Gallery, Kennington, London, UK
Niños – Fundación Guayasamín, Quito, Ecuador
Street Children – Anglo Mexican Institute, Mexico
Agfa Photographer of the Year, Tom Blau Gallery, London, UK
Association of Photographers Awards – Barbican, London, UK
Visions Kapa – Seoul, Korea
Archivo Contemporaneo – Florence, Italy
Tuna – Art Institute of Chicago – USA
Retrospective – Chelsea Arts Club, Chelsea, London, UK
Image 90 – National Theatre, South Bank, London, UK
B&H Gold – Mall Galleries – London, UK