Danny Lyon grew up in Queens. Inspired by Jack Kerouac's On the Road, he left home at 20 and hitchhiked across the South. While still a student at the University of Chicago he became the first staff photographer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and his photographs were included in the book The Movement. He returned to Chicago in 1964 and joined the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club. His two-year stint with the club resulted in the critically acclaimed book, The Bikeriders.
In 1967 Lyon obtained access to the Texas prison system and produced the series Conversations with the Dead. On completing his prison work Lyon returned to New York, where he met the photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank. Together they formed a company called Sweeney Films. In 1970 Lyon moved to New Mexico, and then to Upstate New York in 1987.