This article considers the relationship between lens-based (or photographic) realism and the narrative realism of literary texts with the aim of constructing a model of durational aesthetics that takes into account the simultaneous singularity and ongoingness of the photographic as well as historical event. Photographic “realism” has been diversely conceived, defined, and redefined since the medium's “invention” in the early nineteenth century. Yet to the various existing definitions and conceptions of the term, I seek to add a temporal dimension by looking at how durational experience is latent in the still image, or at least in some still photographs. This temporal quality, I argue, is productively imagined by relating still photography to what literary scholars think of as narrative. In this, I am guided by two questions: First, simply, in what respects might still photography be considered a narrative medium? And second, how might the surprising duration and narrativity of the ostensibly still image figure as a key component to a realist conception of the medium? I address these questions through a consideration of two projects: Susan Meiselas's photographs of the Nicaraguan Revolution, shot in 1978–79, and her film Pictures from a Revolution (1991), in which she reconsiders those earlier images.
Impossible Closure: Realism and Durational Aesthetics in Susan Meiselas's Nicaragua
terri weissman is associate professor of art history in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The author of Phillips Book Prize–winner The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action (2011), she is also cocurator and coauthor for the exhibition and accompanying publication American Modern: Documentary Photographs by Abbott, Evans, and Bourke-White (2010). Her book in progress investigates the visual culture of social movements in the United States after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and she is coauthoring an introductory history of photography, “Global Photography: A Critical History.”
Terri Weissman; Impossible Closure: Realism and Durational Aesthetics in Susan Meiselas's Nicaragua. Novel 1 August 2016; 49 (2): 295–315. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-3509051
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