Photographer Danny Lyon’s “Journey” is an Epic History of Modern Life

Photo: Danny Lyon, Knoxville, Tennessee, 1967, Gelatin silver enlargement print

“Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding,” Plato wrote in The Republic circa 380 B.C.

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Empathy is both an emotional response, as well as a cognitive one. We can both feel what another experiences, as well as perceive it through rational thought. To be empathetic is a challenge some refuse to accept, but for those willing to open themselves, it is a two-fold process. First there is simply the ability to understand that which is not our own, and to refrain from manipulations that would adulterate its truth. Once we are able to do this, the next step comes: to share this truth in a responsible way, one that allows us to use our personal gifts in the service of the cause, while maintaining integrity and authenticity above all.

Danny Lyon, Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia, 1972, Gelatin silver enlargement print

Danny Lyon, Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia, 1972, Gelatin silver enlargement print

American photographer and filmmaker Danny Lyon (b. 1942) understand this and has dedicated his life to the pursuit of truth. Working in the style of New Journalism, in which the photographer fully immersed himself in the milieu in which he worked, Lyon uses emotional and cognitive empathy to delve beyond the surface of the world and capture something much deeper and far more profound, something so visceral it goes beyond words and cuts straight to the soul.

His monographs are seminal volumes in the history of photography, inspiring generations to follow suit. From the landmark publication of The Bikeriders in 1968 to Conversations with the Dead in 1971, Lyon subverted the role of the photographer; no longer an “unbiased observer,” he became a participant, a cohort with a deep sense of camaraderie for his subjects. Whether photographing the Civil Rights Movement for SNCC or capturing The Destruction of Lower Manhattan to make way for the World Trade Center, Lyon reveals, “The use of the camera has always been for me a tool of investigation, a reason to travel, to not mind my own business, and often to get into trouble.”

Danny Lyon, At The Stoplight Café, Cicero, Illinois, 1966, Gelatin silver enlargement print

Danny Lyon, At The Stoplight Café, Cicero, Illinois, 1966, Gelatin silver enlargement print

This willingness to take risks in the service of truth has established Lyon as one of the greatest photographers of our time. In celebration, Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York, presents Danny Lyon: Journey, a selection of rare vintage prints and collages from the artist’s personal collection on view now through October 15, 2016.

Journey goes back to Lyon’s earliest photographs made in the Arizona desert in 1962 and runs up to the present time, with a collage made in a Mayan village in Belize in 2016. The exhibition shares some of Lyon’s most important works, photographs that speak to us today as much as they did the day there were made. This goes back to Plato’s writing on empathy, and the importance of working from this vein to connect across time and space. As Lyon explains, “The pictures do not ask you to help these people, but something much more difficult; to be briefly, intensely away of their existence, an existence as real and significant as you own.’

Danny Lyon, The Haitian Women, Port Au Prince, 1986, Gelatin silver enlargement print

Danny Lyon, The Haitian Women, Port Au Prince, 1986, Gelatin silver enlargement print

All photos: © Danny Lyon. Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zurich

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.