Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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ICP-Susan Meiselas

Only a few hours after spending the evening with my classmates at “Clay”, we met again in the morning at ICP, the International Center of Photography. This is a museum where famous photographers display pictures they took all over the world. Photographs that depict a culture that I do not know much about fascinate me. I find that it is much easier to understand and visualize another country’s political turmoil and struggles through images rather than by just reading about them in a newspaper.

            Susan Meiselas is a photographer who is most famous for her committed coverage of political conflicts in Central America during the 1970’s and 1980’s. She struggled with the representation of her subjects, about control over use and circulation of her images in the construction of history and memory. She also got very involved in the lives of her subjects. One of the exhibits in the museum was called Nicaragua. Meiselas traveled to this country in 1978 just as the political situation exploded. She photographed startling images in color of the lead-up to the overthrow of the Somoza regime, and the victory of Sandinista. These pictures were published in her 1981 book called Nicaragua.

            Some of the pictures in her collection were outlandish and almost did not seem real. For example, “Cuesta del Plomo hillside outside Managua, a well-known site of many assassinations carried out by National Guard, 1978”, is one such image. Next to the gorgeous hillside lies a dead body, which is missing the head and the arms. The spine of this person is covered in blood and is sticking out from his neck. This image depicts the horrid conditions that the political unrest caused in Nicaragua. People were brutally murdered in even the most pretty of places. This image is far more graphic than any verbal or written description one could get of such a tumultuous situation.

            Another image in the exhibit showed the sheer poverty and difficulty the people in Nicaragua had to deal with. In the photograph titled, “Children Playing Monimbo, Nicaragua 1979”, the sadness of the political turmoil is felt. This photograph shows two adorable children crouching down in the middle of a road to gather pebbles. The whole scene around them is one of desolation and destruction. It appears that these boys are somewhat oblivious to their surroundings and are happy to just play. It was very interesting to see this fighting and war scene through the eyes of small children.

            Meiselas continues to use her talent to capture images in Iraq. In 2007 she took a picture titled, “Pank amusement park for domestic tourism, Rowanduz, Northern Iraq.” In the middle of a sandy desert in Iraq, is an amusement park. This was a very striking photograph because the merry-go-round with little ducks for the children to sit on is an unexpected scene in such a place. I am not exactly sure why there are rides in this isolated desert, but Meiselas manages to capture this amazing image to show the world.  

            Meiselas likes photography that is striking and unusual. She tries to photograph things that most people are not aware of. I think she does an excellent job at this, and I definitely learned a lot from her images. Meiselas has given me insight into the lives of people living in the midst of war, something that here in America we do not experience.