Titled “Self Portrait, Photo Booth, Knoxville, 1967,” this is the only image of photographer Danny Lyon that appears in his autobiographical collection, Memories of Myself .
Two young men encountered near Fort Sanders on Sept. 3, 1967. Wandering through backyards, near “kudzu vines and railroad tracks,” Lyon found several young men working on a red ’53 Ford. In his diary he wrote, “I waited a long time before walking up to them, the way you delay doing something you know you are going to enjoy...” He helped them get the car started, with a dollar’s worth of gas, and took several photographs of the group, three of which appear in Memories of Myself .
On his walks, Lyon encountered this unusual assembly in the vicinity of Fort Sanders. The car was named “Mr. Rum Dum,” a racing Thunderbird. The man sitting on the hood of the car, Lyon says, was a “carny,” then working at the Tennessee Valley Fair. Lyon attended the fair with this group. “Today I met some people with a goat-dog. Actually a billy goat but so called because when standing with two or three dogs, folks often ask, ŒWhat kind of dog is that, son?’ and they are told it is a goat-dog. To show how it fights, one of the boys got on all fours and started butting his head into the goat. I am left feeling the people I photograph are the best people in America.”
Several of his photographs feature a young woman named Leslie, a photogenic Knoxvillian Lyon had previously met in New Orleans. “Leslie was a hippie, and so were her friends,” Lyon recalls. In this photograph, the one used for the cover illustration of his 2009 book, Memories of Myself , she is standing on the Gay Street viaduct, near Jackson Avenue. The brick building behind her has since been torn down.
Lyon’s camera was aimed at a racing stock car being towed, but the context may surprise locals, especially those under 50: in the background is the 200 block of Gay Street, between Vine and Commerce, the block of Gay that no longer exists. Most of the buildings visible were torn down within about five years of when this photograph was taken. The perspective is from Vine Street looking south across what’s now a parking lot, a small park, and Summit Hill Drive.
Titled “Highland Avenue,” this photo of an unidentified boy on his porch on the 1500 block, across the street from the site of the childhood home of James Agee.