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

Cuesta del plomo, hillside outside Managua-a well known site of many assassinations carried out by the National Guard

Susan Meiselas is a photographer best known for her committed coverage of political conflicts in Central America during the 1970s and 80s.  She was very concerned with issues of nationalism and identity.  Three of her most famous projects are Carnival Strippers (1972-1976), Nicaragua (1978-2004), and Kurdistan (1991-present).  Currently, her works from these projects are exhibited in New York’s International Center of Photography, to which we took a class trip. 
The project that got most of my attention was Nicaragua. Susan Meiselas took pictures of the violence that went on in that nation. It was a nation in turmoil and she was one of the very few photographers who was brave enough to go there and take pictures of the brutality and the murders.  Two photographs in the exhibit really caught my eye, “Car of a Samoza informer burning in Managua, Nicaragua” (1978), and “Cuesta del plomo, hillside outside Managua-a well known site of many assassinations carried out by the National Guard.” These images contained something we don’t witness often: violence and murder. Although we hear about them quite often, we never actually witness how terrible violence gets. In one of these pictures there is a car on its side, burning, with clouds of smoke rising for everyone to see. A woman casually walks by.  The contrast between the fire orange and the clouds of smoke seems unreal, yet fascinating.  The second image stunned me; it was a picture of half a man, only his legs and the spinal cord sticking out in the middle of green mountains. A hand lies within a few feet of the legs.  It just seems like these mountains are so beautiful and peaceful, and in the middle of it all such a gruesome image.  There was a picture with children lying on the floor, dead, with blood all around them.  Other photographs showed bandits with guns and masks over their faces running through a street while all the neighbors are outside on their doorsteps, observing, and it seems so casual for them, so natural.
A thing that I found really interesting about her is that she goes back to her subjects. Meiselas finds the people she once photographed and returns the pictures to them. For Meiselas, it is somewhat of a quest. She believes that photographers have to form connections with their subjects, revisit and return the photos. The International Center of Photography made videos of Susan Meisalas’s trip back to Nicaragua and showed us the people in her photos. These people told Meiselas about their role at the time she took those photos, and talked about the past and the present.
I really enjoyed our class trip to the ICP, and especially enjoyed the photographs of Susan Meiselas. She is an incredible photographer, who is one the few brave enough to photograph during times in which nations are in turmoil. Now these pictures are not only art, they are a part of a nation’s history.