Impossible closure: Realism and durational aesthetics in Susan Meiselas's Nicaragua

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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.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-315
Number of pages21
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2016


  • Documentary photograph
  • photography and realism
  • durational aesthetics
  • art and social change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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