Danny Lyon’s persistence

Danny Lyon jumped into photojournalism in the civil rights era. Not happy with the view he saw in mass-market publications like LIFE, Mr. Lyon set out to produce the unseen parts of the story. He’s receiving attention this month after an appearance at a National Geographic seminar where he talked about his work and career. He’s apparently got some interesting ideas on how he’d edit the magazine.

He’s also the subject of the Lens blog at the New York Times. The main idea is Lyon’s agitation for people to pursue justice and freedom. It’s something he’s been consistent (persistent) about in his career.

Mr. Lyon can be an abrasive character. He says what he thinks. The audience or venue doesn’t really change that. If everyone were like that, we’d have a tough time getting along in the world. But if no one is willing to take that stand, it’s too easy for problems to get papered over. No one wants to shake up or offend anyone, and it becomes too easy for those who should be called out to misdirect the focus.

There are photographers who have set out to shake things up a bit. Don McCullin, W. Eugene Smith, Gordon Parks all professed to a philosophy of using their cameras as “weapons” to try to shine light on problems and urge people to become involved in changing the situation. We benefit when photographers shine lights in dark corners. I applaud the ones who have the courage to do so.

Read about Danny Lyon and his work on the NY Times Lens blog.

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