Photographing the Classics • The Nob Hill Gazette

Photo courtesy of Fred Lyon.

In a new book, vivid images by Fred Lyon capture the best of 20th-century California design

“Welcome to my studio, please come in,” says Fred Lyons, who, at 97, has spent some seven decades capturing iconic California interiors with her sharp technical skills and artistic intuition. We enter the San Francisco photographer’s all-white workplace/gallery/archive near the Presidio, where the walls are adorned with large black-and-white prints of his most memorable images from the 50s and 60s. his office sits a late-night jam session at the Monterey Jazz Festival; above his computer hovers a misty night scene at Lands End; and an opera gala guest in a ballgown poses in the huge atrium of the San Francisco Opera House. The travel scenes of Lake Como and the multi-splendoured Villa d’Este also contrast with the rugged beauty of Big Sur.

Lyon is celebrating the arrival of a preview copy of Inventing the California Look: Through the Lens of Fred Lyonwritten by Philip E.Meza, which will be released on April 5 by Rizzoli. Vividly illustrated and comprehensive, the elegant tome documents the work of some of California’s leading interior designers: Frances Elkin, Michael Taylor, John Dickinson, Anthony Grele, Charles Pfister and Penelope Rozis.

Fred Lyons. | Photo courtesy of Stephen Frisch.

“Fred’s photography is an ode to the visual power of classic Californian design, its timeless beauty, optimism and freshness,” says the Los Angeles-based photographer gallerist. Pierre Fettermann, which represents Lyon’s extensive image archive. In the book, an all-white bedroom by Taylor from the early ’60s, for example, still looks relevant.

Today, the lens man – dashing in his signature black round glasses, dark J.Crew denim shirt, chinos and Cole-Haan loafers – scrutinizes every page. “I am full of wonder for this long life that I am enjoying and my unexpected decades of photography,” he says. “This new book by Rizzoli is a complete surprise. I thought it was going to be a biography, but instead we pay homage to the rooms of great beauty in Pacific Heights, the mansions of Pebble Beach, and the light-filled interiors that have influenced designers around the world.

Far from retired, Lyon’s fine art photography is in high demand, adds Fetterman, and the photographer is planning three more books documenting scenes in San Francisco, where he grew up and returned from Washington, D.C., in 1947. after war service in the US Navy. . Armed with a single camera, a versatile Linhof Technika, Lyon began his career photographing the exteriors and interiors of the city. In New York, he branched out into fashion with America’s first supermodels, including the super stylish Dorian Leigh.

“We pay homage to pieces of great beauty…that have influenced designers around the world.” —Fred Lyon

In the 1950s and 1960s, Lyon taught himself to photograph in color. He became a contract photographer for top titles of the magazine era, including Life, Holidays, Fortune and Vogueand shot for influential refuge magazines like Home & Garden and Beautiful house. He captured a cosmopolitan setting for the admired publisher Flower Cowles‘very influential Flair magazine. He has also published books on his black and white photography, volumes on vineyards around the world, and even a scintillating book devoted to the Fabergé collection of John Traina.

Thanks to his lifelong work ethic (“My father told me when I was young that I could do whatever I wanted, as long as I worked hard,” he says), Lyon has continued to be popular through his 70s and 80s, and now as he tackles a new centennial honorary title. And his fame follows. A series of scenes from the city of Lyon are currently featured in a new large-format Taschen book, San Francisco: Portrait of a city. In September, Scott Powellhis first book, Frances Elkins: visionary American designerwill also be published by Rizzoli, with many previously unseen images of Lyon.

Lyon has captured interiors that are unforgettable in time, like San Francisco designer John Dickinson’s famous Washington Street firehouse, a social and style hub in the 1970s. | Photo courtesy of Fred Lyon.

“Clearly the ‘Californian look’ owes much to Lyon and its purpose, including Elkins’ Casa Amesti, Guigné de Hail’s pool house, and the fame of Dickinson’s fire station,” Jared Goss written in the scholarly preface to the book. “Without the images of Lyon, there might never have been a ‘California Look’.”

Inventing the California Look: Through the Lens of Fred Lyon, released this month by Rizzoli, depicts the highlights of the photographer’s seven-decade career.

My recent afternoon interview with Lyon continued into the evening as he regaled me and his beloved wife, Pennywith vivid memories of working with a few legends: Michael Taylor (“a design despot”), John Dickinson (“a true original”) and Frances Elkins (“a genius at mixing beautiful antiques with modern styles”).

He photographed many houses designed by Elkins, including the architect’s imposing residence Whitney Warren at the top of Telegraph Hill. “Frances wore chic Chanel couture and walked around barefoot, styling and arranging. She had the good grace to let me do my thing, undisturbed,” Lyons recounts.

It must be said that Lyon, the funny storyteller, has a perfectly clear photographic memory of each shoot. “I’m having a great time and I don’t want to leave,” Lyon says, pointing to new framed photographs; stacks of his 2021 book, San Francisco Black; and portfolios of mid-century Parisian street scenes, all in black and white. “I intend to continue working. It makes me very happy,” he continued. “I am obsessed with photography. Now, with my wonderful new book, I’m more motivated than ever.

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