Nonagenarian Local Photographer Releases 'San Francisco Noir'

Aged 93, longtime San Francisco photographer Fred Lyon is releasing his latest book, San Francisco Noir, this Thursday. 

The fourth-generation San Franciscan, currently a resident of Cow Hollow, has had a storied career over the last 70 years. As he told us last year, Lyon has shot for clients from the White House to Vogue, yet San Francisco always drew him back. 

"I was born here," Lyon told us in a phone call, "and there's just so much variety here. I have a personal theory that people who live near the water are more inclined to embrace risk as part of their daily diet. People here are livelier."

Fred Lyons with his new book at the Leica store, the site of his upcoming launch party. | Photo: Alex Ramos

Lyon's first book, 2014's San Francisco: Portrait of a City 1940-1960, captured the city's neighborhoods, people, and angles—and even took him to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge.

"It's of course the people who make [the city]," he said, "but I have a lot of visual orientation too—and what could be more visual than San Francisco?" 

San Francisco Noir captures the city after dark. Lyon focused on the darker hours because he felt they suited the city's personality.

"San Francisco is naturally a noir city," he said. "All of the noir movies have mostly been made here; we have steep hills, and dark alleys. And luckily, I just happened to have enough work that looks like that."

Castle Street with view of Coit Tower, 1947. | Photo: Fred Lyon

According to Lyon, noir is anything dark and mysterious, and the new book collects San Francisco's hidden corners and slice of life, past and present. The volume gathers photographs of images as disparate as nightclubs, dark alleys, trees at dusk, and silhouettes in the fog.

Some photos date as far back as the 40s and 50s, but Lyon has included new work as well.

Ralph Hawkins, jazz drummer. | Photo: Fred Lyon

To celebrate the new book, the Leica Store at 463 Bush St. is hosting an artist reception and launch party tomorrow from 6pm-8pm. Lyon will be present, with pre-signed books available for purchase. 

The event also marks the launch of an exhibition of Lyon's work, with newly released photographs of the city between 1940-60. The exhibition—a collaboration between the Leica store and the Peter Fetterman Gallery—will run through December 30th. 

Lyon said that he doesn't know if this will be his last book, but if it is, "it would certainly be the best way to go out," he said, "in glory."

Chinese New Year, Chinatown, San Francisco. | Photo: Fred Lyon

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Nonagenarian local photographer releases san francisco noir