Pictures from a Revolution | The Photojournalist Who Embraced Reality and Captured History

See the world through Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas's eyes in her career-spanning retrospective

by Jennifer Piejko
Oct 24 2018, 3:12pm

Deserted muddy roads; neat rows of soldiers dressed in their elegantly starched white uniforms; overturned pickup trucks ablaze with orange flames; a 14-year-old Nubian barefoot in her red dress, wheeling away her burlap-covered husband in a wooden cart to bury him away from the open field where he was gunned down. These are the images that open Pictures from a Revolution, the 1991 documentary that photojournalist Susan Meiselas made with filmmakers Richard P. Rogers and Alfred Guzzetti, which is on view in an exhibition compiling decades of her work as a Magnum photographer—as well as an independent surveyor of the times—at Jeu de Paume in Paris.

The film returned Meiselas to Nicaragua, a place where she had previously documented the left-wing Sandinistas’ revolution in 1979. She reflects on going back there in Revolution: “When I first went to Nicaragua, I never imagined that I’d spend the next ten years or more photographing there. By chance I arrived right before the insurrection, in June ’78. I got up every day without a plan, and just photographed what I saw… History was being made in the streets, and no one knew where it would lead. People believed what they were doing mattered. I felt the necessity to witness and document what they did.”

Photo: Courtesy of Jeu de Paume

Meiselas recorded the violent consequences of every explosive flash she found throughout her journeys, an embrace of reality she had prepared well for at home: After studying under Ansel Adams, the tack her career would take began just outside her own door. For her 44 Irving Street series from 1971, completed while she was still in graduate school at Harvard, she photographed the tenants in her boarding house.

Four years later, when she was living in the Little Italy community of Manhattan, she lost her balance on her bicycle, but caught the attention—and taunts—of the young girls on the block. We see Roe, JoJo, Carol, Dee, Lisa, Julia, and Frankie—the subjects of her series Prince Street Girls—get into hair-pulling fistfights or propping themselves up languorously against brick walls and iron gates. Meiselas’s lens caught them consumed with their own adolescence, chasing the exhilarating thrill of independence just out of reach.

See more of Susan Meiselas’ work and read the full story on GARAGE, or if you want to see more shots from Sandinista Nicaragua, read our interview with Gonzo photographer Grant Fleming, who dodged death and nearly tried it on with Daniel Ortega’s wife…

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