‘De.Coded – A Human Atlas of Silicon Valley’ celebrates local changemakers via an interactive book and app.
How does one map a community? Sure, there are charts of geographic boundaries and landscape features, but what about the heart and soul? British artist Marcus Lyon explores this idea with his multimedia, multicultural Human Atlas projects, which celebrate visionaries, community leaders, and, as he put it in a recent interview, “ordinary human beings who are not ordinary at all.”
The latest Human Atlas, “De.Coded – A Human Atlas of Silicon Valley,” honors 101 noteworthy local luminaries from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life, including retired judge and former Palo Alto City Council member LaDoris Cordell, Nobel Prize winning physicist and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, pastor and Project WeHope founder Paul Bains, Ravenswood Family Health Center CEO Luisa Buada, and retired Palo Alto Animal Control Officer William Warrior, to name just a few.
Their stories are published in an interactive app and book format, as well as online. When looking at the book, the reader can scan the portraits with their phone, activating brief oral-history soundscapes of the subjects speaking about their lives, their backgrounds and their passions. Ancestral DNA analysis from each subject also shows the diverse backgrounds of participants, artistically displayed and incorporating the colors from each portrait.
Lyon will pay a visit to Books Inc. in Palo Alto on Oct. 29 as part of the launch for “De.Coded.”
In addition to his career as a portrait artist (he’s photographed the likes of Queen Elizabeth II and several prime ministers), Lyon has also long been involved in social justice and nonprofit work, and said the Human Atlas projects serve as a way to bring both branches of his life together. The first edition came about when Lyon realized his young children would soon grow old enough to start school, and thus travel opportunities would be limited by “the looming tyranny of term time.” He and his wife, who’s Brazilian, decided to embark on a lengthy family sojourn in Brazil, “to do a deep-dive cultural immersive before they become little British school children,” he recalled proposing at the time.
While there, Lyon embarked on an extensive portrait and interview project on the changemakers of Brazil, exploring the idea of modern Brazilian identity. Upon returning to Britain and publishing the work – “Somos Brasil” – in 2016, he found it resonated with many.
“I thought I was one and done!” he said, “And then the calls kept coming.”
A Human Atlas of Germany was created next, followed by Detroit, Michigan. That attracted the attention of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, which commissioned the new Silicon Valley edition.
To decide on whom to include in “De.Coded,” Lyon and his team researched and reached out to a large group of local influencers – not in the social media sense of the term, he was quick to note, but “people who influence the fabric of society” – and asked them to nominate people they felt represented the best of their community. That large group of names was then presented to a curatorial committee, headed by Cathy Kimball, who helped select the list of 101.
Human Atlas producer Camila Pastorelli spent months inviting and coordinating with the nominees, setting up Lyon’s interview and portrait sessions. The ancestral DNA-mapping element (A Human Atlas uses the company Family Tree DNA) is ”normally a deal maker rather than a deal breaker,” Lyon said, with participants seeing it as a chance to honor their family heritage and cultural backgrounds.
The ebullient Lyon said he is humbled by the path his artistic journey has taken with the Human Atlas series (next up for mapping: Los Angeles), an experience that continues to be “really fulfilling and life affirming,” he said. “I’m genuinely honored by the opportunity to tell these stories.”