Thom Lyons built his first darkroom in the space under the main staircase of the New Jersey family home in 1958. 57 years later and living in Australia and New Zealand, he's still shooting, and with equipment undreamt of then.
Thom’s journey started in high school on the school yearbook staff and upon graduation as a photographer in the US Air Force, including in Vietnam. After a 6-year decorated military career, Thom worked on a bachelors degree in Professional Photography at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California, and a BA in History from Metro State College in Denver, Colorado. With 17 years experience as a railroad photographer in Colorado and New Mexico, Thom emigrated to Australia in 1988 and worked as the lead cameraman at the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. From there he went into computer support. He retired at age 60 on a military pension.
Thom Lyons in Vietnam
"Having a steady income, without all the distractions of business, frees your mind. When I moved in [to a retirement village] it scared me that too many people in such places are just being warehoused and are “waiting for god”.About the time I retired I was also hit with health problems due to my exposure to agent orange in Vietnam and problems with arthritis in bones I broke on parachute drops in the military.I had a choice of becoming a rocking chair pilot or living my life again and I said screw you, I choose life!
"Picking up the camera again, it hit me in the face that times were changing and without a wet darkroom I was facing huge lab costs which my retirement income could not support. So in 2009 I went digital with a Pentax DSLR.I am still madly in love with my 8"x10" (sheet film) view camera but you take life as it comes to you and digital is the way to go.
Photo: Thom Lyons
"The change to digital presented a new learning curve. That worked out in time, but the real problem (from an art photography perspective) was that my experience had been in portrait and industrial/military photography. Looking at the work of William Eggleston, Steven Shore and Joel Meyerwitz gave me the leg up I needed to make the transition into art photography. It is a hard change for a technocrat's mind but the result is my second show, and my first in New Zealand. My love affair with New Zealand makes all this easier and opens the mind to alternate way of seeing things. New discoveries, like the concept of negative space, bring a new excitement to the life of someone with too much white hair and not enough spring in his step. 70 is the new... something, I just don’t know what or care what. As long as I’m alive I will continue to see the world and record it."
'A soldier's eyes' is Thom Lyons' first photography exhibition in New Zealand. (As you can see from the examples, it is not an exhibition of war photography.) It runs at Photospace Gallery, 37 Courtenay Place, Wellington, from 8th August to 22nd August, 2015. It is, significantly, 50 years since New Zealand soldiers first got involved in the war in Vietnam. And the 8th of August is the day that, 100 years ago, ANZAC troops took the hill Chunuk Bair in Turkey, which they held for a few days before being driven back. See Wellington Battalion takes Chunuk Bair. We commemorate this event with the exhibition 'Monuments' by Steven La Plante, which shows in Rooms 1 and 2 of Photospace Gallery, also from 8th August to the 22nd August.