Fred Lyon has been taking pictures for seven decades, in many styles — fashion, portraiture, travel and landscape, to name just a few. He has worked for top magazines, including Vogue, Glamour, Newsweek and Life, and exhibited in major museums such as the Palace of Fine Arts here in San Francisco and the Art Institute of Chicago.
“San Francisco Then,” a visual journey through the streets of San Francisco of the 1940s and 1950s, on view through the end of the month at Modernbook Gallery, has a uniqueness that makes it fascinating.
Its 30 photographs aren’t merely interesting scenes. They reveal icons that sing of an exceptional city in its glorious appearance: the Golden Gate Bridge, Telegraph Hill and the cable car turnaround at Market and Powell streets.
And what could be more iconic than Herb Caen riding on the outside of a cable car?
Lyon’s artistry is accented. An intense and varied sense of light and dark and unique juxtaposition, as well as beauty of form, stand out in many of the photographs. Often, the images seem like paintings.
A poetic sensibility also appears throughout the exhibit, particularly in photographs with fog — an element one would expect in a show about San Francisco.
In “Embarcadero Lunch, 1948,” two figures, a sign, the sidewalk and parking meters are all in a haze of varied intensity. The fog is obvious, evoking a soft, moody feeling of which the viewer is most aware.
“Herring Run, 1955” is very different due to its severity. Three fishermen on a rocky beach pull a large net, presumably filled with fish, from the sea. Everything about the foreground — the men, rocks, nets — is harsh and vivid. The lighting also has sharp contrasts, invigorating the photograph.
Another interesting work is “Coit Tower, Castle Street, 1947,” an image of a low-lit street with a brightly lit tower rising dramatically in the background. There’s a poetry, however, in the ultra ordinariness of the street and its almost film noir quality.
IF YOU GO
Where: Modernbook Gallery, 49 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes Aug. 28
Info: (415) 732-0200, www.modernbook.com