When activist photography appeared on the scene in the early 1960’s we assumed that a revolution was at hand. Here was a medium that was realistic, easily artistic, and democratically available to anyone that could afford the one dollar cost of a roll of bulk loaded Tri-X. The marriage of the B&W photograph with the offset printing press was a marriage made in heaven; for the realistic picture could be reproduced and available to thousands for a reasonable amount of cash. This happy marriage should have spawned dozens of picture magazines helping to radicalize America and putting the power of the press into thousands of individual hands. This did not happen. Instead the explosion of interest in photography spurned few magazines, but hundreds of art galleries instead. Today, galleries, not magazines, have become the major venue for exhibiting pictures. Photography itself has been distorted and changed from what it should have been, into many things it was never meant to be. Photography works best when it does what it is uniquely qualified to do as a medium: reproduce the real world.
Since its inception, Nancy Lyon has been the secret power behind Bleak Beauty. A founding member of Bleak Beauty Books, she had edited books and photographs, done sound recording and assisted in film editing. The daughter of a seamstress, Nancy has been making quilts since 1977. These quilts are made of cotton, hand quilted on a wooden frame and often contain over a thousand individually sewn pieces. (The Nine Patch Tea Cup quilt has 1620 individual pieces, plus the border strips. The Bear Paw, with its border of hundreds of small triangles, contains even more.) Quilting, originally a way of making bed covers out of scraps, is an indigenous craft that goes back in the Americas at least to the 18th century. Nancy has never exhibited her quilts, or offered them for sale. A rarity in this world, she is content to make the quilts for the sheer joy of making them. Each Tuesday she quilts with the United Memorial Methodist Church Quilters of Modena, New York, where she is the recording secretary. Nancy, who was born in Chicago in 1949, is the mother and step mother of four children.