Gerald Cyrus was born in 1957 in Los Angeles, California, where he began photographing in 1984. His initial subjects included jazz musicians and urban street scenes, and he exhibited at several Los Angeles-area galleries. In 1990 he moved to New York City to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts (SVA), which he obtained in 1992. While at SVA, Cyrus interned at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and began work on "Kinship," a project focusing on African American family life. Throughout the 1990s he also worked on projects documenting Harlem's nightclubs and street life, New York's subways, and black communities around the United States.
Cyrus was an artist-in-residence at Light Work in Syracuse, New York, in 1995, and in 1998 he was awarded a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. In 2002, he received a Sacatar Foundation fellowship to live and work in Bahia, Brazil, for eight weeks. He was awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts for 2005.
Cyrus's work has been exhibited in museums including the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, the Bronx Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum, and the Worcester Art Museum. His photographs are in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Amistad Center for Art & Culture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Readers' Digest Corporation. He has been featured in two anthologies of black photographers: Reflections in Black by Deborah Willis and Committed to the Image by Barbara Head Millstein.
Cyrus currently lives in Philadelphia and is a member of the photographers' collective Kamoinge, Inc., which published the book Sweet Breath of Life in 2004.