“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.
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.
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.
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Photo: Danny Lyon, Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia, 1972, Gelatin silver enlargement print © Danny Lyon. Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zurich