The ‘Dirty-Beautiful’ Photography of Conner Lyons


Conner Lyons is a photographer based in Seattle, USA. Shot using film, Conner’s photographs of fluid bodies surrounded by celestial light and manmade structures, striking juxtapositions and mellow scenes of urban movement and preoccupation bristle with a palpable energy and an edifying sense of time and place.

Conner’s eye for the sublime in the everyday and ability to capture distinctive elements of Seattle’s character earmarks him as a talented image-maker. The fact that he extols traditional analogue methods of shooting and developing reinforces his apparent knack for the craft.

His deep interest in capturing realistic scenes and using natural light to affect the temper of the photograph has prompted him to carry a camera wherever he goes. Conner first began taking photos in high school as a way of recording his interactions with the world around him.

‘I would bring my camera with me out bike riding and skateboarding so that I could capture the essence of my friends and their capabilities’ he says, ‘I also have a large group of graffiti writer friends and I would take my camera with me while they would paint a spot as a way of documenting their work, as well as the unpredictable nature of the streets.

Film photography to me is so much more gritty and raw than digital photography. This is the primary reason I choose to shoot film. I feel like the world of post production has become a weird craze for contemporary photographers. People use filters and photo editing programs to make their photos look like Hallmark cards. To me, all of this editing means the photographers leave the core of the image behind, creating something artificial. I try to leave my images untouched for the most part. I love the light splotches and leaks that can make or break a photo; these can only be obtained in film photography.’


Conner is inspired by a myriad of things, though in particular it seems to be the action of shooting itself that feeds his creativity. His excursions on bikes, skateboards, or hiking around his home influence the way in which he chooses to photograph what he sees. Conner also cites bands and local photographers Andrea Sonnenburg aka Teen Witch, Lauren Colton and Leena Joshias influential, though lists American director and author Harmony Korine as his biggest inspiration.

The Gummo creator is responsible for projecting a decidedly no-frills, yet sublimely compelling view of youth culture throughout the last two decades. Conner produces photographs that seem to identify with this projection, he tells me, ‘I feel as if my work primarily focuses on what I like to call “dirty beauty.” Making street people look almost dreamy is something I strive towards. I have a series of photos that I shot at different carnivals which is pretty much the breeding ground for this dirty beauty idea. Skateboarding, graffiti culture and inner city landscapes are chalk full of dirty beauty. “Life is beautiful, really it is, full of beauty and illusions” – Gummo.’


Conner’s stomping-ground of Seattle also influences his photography. He tells me that his work has been heavily affected by Seattle’s status as a great music city and that bands are always receptive to his work on photo shoots.

‘I just finished up a shoot with Seattle-based dreampop band Lemolo’ he says,’ Portland-based band STRFKR also recently used one of my images for a 7″ single that they released on record store day which was rad as I have been listening to their music for a very long time. I have been listening to lots of dream pop music lately, like Memoryhouse, Wye Oak, and Youth Lagoon. I guess in a perfect world I would want my images to feel how their music sounds. I am supposed to be doing a shoot with music producer Erik Blood in the next month or so, along with the blues trio Lonesome Shack. I feel like band photography is where I am at right now, but my direction could totally change if the right opportunities present themselves. I am always on the lookout for projects.

There are some really cool multi-purpose spaces in Seattle like Love City Love and Cairo that really spice up the Seattle arts community. Big thanks to both of those places. They are always down to work with emerging artists, whether a person wants to show some photos, play some music, sell some jewellery, or whatever else you can think of. I think Seattle has a very supportive arts community with a sort of big town small world type of vibe.’

Conner’s love for Seattle is by no means limited to the endless stream of great bands issuing from the city. His interests lie in the wider arts community, something that thrives in the Pacific Northwest. In a squall of Instagram filters and Photoshopped high-res press packs, Conner’s photography provides a tangible insight into the unapologetic everyday outside of the studio, the value of traditional tools and the simple pleasures of impulsive exploration.

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Words: Emily Beeson | @boogiemargaret