Cuesta del Plomo is the title of this photograph, and is a photo I have hanging on my wall. This picture is from Meiselas’ 1981 war report entitled Nicaragua. This particular photograph means a lot to me. When people visit me, they are usually immediately turned off when they see the photograph on my wall, which inevitably leads to a very short discussion on why it is there in the first place. These moments are very awkward, and even if someone doesn’t say anything I can usually tell that they are put off by the photograph, which really says a lot about the impact and power behind this picture. It can literally change the atmosphere of the environment that it is in.
I love the photograph. Not only because it shows the ugly side of war, but because of the way she chose to frame it. She could have easily stood over the corpse, or closer to it to show some of its more grotesque details, like the severed limb or the rotting flesh and the ejecting spinal column, but chose to photograph it with the serene background. This makes the picture for me, and reflects a lot of my own personal opinions about life. To me, this photograph says that there are no promises in life, and that this world possesses both great beauty, and great pain and suffering as well, neither of which should be ignored. Disney et al have convinced people that life doesn’t or shouldn’t include any losses, and that if you’re not experiencing total and complete bliss at all times, then you’re doing something wrong. I can’t agree with that mindset. For instance, when you make a commitment, is it something that lasts only as long as the pleasure does? Follow me for a moment.
This photograph says, “Hey! This world is a lot more than you are willing to recognize it for.” It begs me to not limit my experiences while I’m here (alive), and at the same time asks me to accept the ‘bad’ with the ‘good’. Seeing how others react to it, may have shaped my opinion of it. Most people are so turned off by it, and I think it’s because for a moment, they have to deal with that ugly side of reality, and it isn’t what they want to do. Also, I think they may have trouble computing the juxtaposition of a corpse framed in a beautiful landscape. They don’t know how to react. Do they react to the landscape? Do they react to the corpse? Why is the corpse here? Why did you frame it like that? Are you glorifying war and death? Why would you take this picture in the first place? Isn’t this disrespectful? For me, when I look at my wall and see this picture every day, it is a very much needed dose of reality. Outside of laws, the comfort of our air-conditioned homes, and fast food that is available 24 hours a day there is a careless creature that is only concerned with its own survival, comfort and pleasure. In fact, our society is so comfortable (depending on your race) that you may never encounter this creature. You may get a glimpse of it when you cut off the supply of comfort and pleasure to someone else who was relying on you to fulfill that need, but for the most part, that creature is thoroughly hidden. I see that creature in this photograph. Seeing this picture reminds me to be aware of that creature within myself, and to recognize it when I see it within others.
At some point, I’d like to do weekly photo projects based on the work of photographers who inspire me. So, this week Susan Meiselas work will be my inspiration, and I invite any of my 0 readers to do the same, and post a link to their work in the comments section. I love the stories that her work tells. Too often, within my own work and the photos I see from other photographers, do I realize how vapid the photos are. There is no story at all, or if there is a story, it is a story of how well the lens can resolve details, or how crazy, wild and ‘free’ we are. So this week, I want to seek out a more meaningful narrative for my photos, and I will post the results a week from now.
!Update! – I found a note in a 8 year old notebook that I have, about this photo, it read:
The corpse lies in a beautiful surrounding, that appears to be far away from ‘civilization’. Out of sight, out of mind, right?.
Please check out Susan Meiselas’ work at: http://www.susanmeiselas.com/
Also, you can check out this interview:
The pictures in this post are the work and property of photographer Susan Meiselas.