The Kindness of One
Every moment contains multiple possibilities, though sometimes we cannot feel it. Small decisions, small gestures, and small actions ripple outwards from our bodies into the lives of others, collapsing the many possibilities into the determination of reality. With a casual and careless stroke, we can crush the spirit of another in passing without any awareness of having done so. Equally, we can unknowingly radiate to others the inspiration and joy to live another day. Our deepest acts of both cruelty and kindness may in fact be invisible to us.
In The Kindness of One, photographer Margaret Lansink and poet Rene van Hulst contemplate the great potential within a single person’s act of kindness. The couple were inspired by events in 1940, during World War II, in which thousands of Jewish people were trapped in Kaunas, Lithuania between the advancing German troops and the Russian army taking over the Baltic states. On July 24th, the Dutch counsel in Kaunas, Jan Zwartendijk, took personal action and, even though he did not know the Jewish refugees, began to issue visas. In only two weeks, he issued 2,345 visas and saved the lives of more than 6,000 people. The Japanese counsel of Kaunas, Sugihara, likewise issued visas that enabled the people to travel through Russia and reach Japan by boat.
Compared to the scale of history, most days in modern life are banal, filled with administrative tasks like checking email, doing office work, and running household errands. Yet what is a visa but some small piece of administration?
In her black and white images, Lansink traces the feeling of everyday saviours like Zwartendijk through an intuitive view of Kaunas and Japan. She mixes scenes from ordinary daily life with shots of blurred confusion, and layered scenes with reflections that hold us apart from what we see. In his series of short poems, van Hulst muses on the potential of our human existence: we are all afraid and alone, together. In combination, the photographs and words dwell in the possibility of any given moment for a person to choose fear, apathy, and anger, or to choose compassion and kindness. Gently, they urge for kindness.
Text: Katherine Oktober Matthews
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