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

We often idealize war. When we think of war photography, we try to look for smiles of the people, welcoming the victors in the war, or the war heroes, who risked their life for the people of their countries. Susan Meiselas’s war photographs tell a different aspect of war, the millions of casualties.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Susan meiselas began her career as a freelance photographer after joining the Magnum Photos in 1976.  In the same year, Meiselas published her first book, Carnival Strippers, documenting the lives of strippers in carnival shows.  For a decade after 1976, Meiselas had worked on the coverage of insurrection against the Somoza regime in Nicaragua. Her photographs from the time period have become a historical record as they uncover the disastrous effect of the civil war. Her direct and objective photographing of the war in Nicaragua recreated the horror of the war and the detrimental affect it had on the people.

From her collection in ICP [International center for photography], “Cuesta Del Plomo” captivated me. The photographs showed the deteriorated corpse of a man, assassinated on the hillside outside of Managua. The photograph focused on the man, with the top half of his body perished. Every time I looked at the photograph, I felt I was dragging the corpse, with my hands on the spinal cord. Meiselas also emphasized on the frame of the photograph. By including the tranquil landscape, Meiselas conveyed the idea that the once calm country has now become a land of death.

In time of war, children also suffered. In one photograph, children laid on the checkerboard pattern floor, smeared with their blood, as the rescue workers tried to save them from a house, destroyed by a bomb dropped in Managua. The eyes of one child, no longer sparkling with optimism and hope, started at the other one, bruised and unconscious. To see their eyes, slowly closing, I felt that war shouldn’t be this way at all. From this photograph, I began to understand why Meiselas stayed in Nicaragua for a long period of time. Seeing these children dying from the War, Meiselas felt the obligation to photograph those moments to inform the society the brutality of war.