Susan Meiselas

By Marc Karlin


In Vertigo 2 we published an account by Susan Meiselas of the Kurd’s attempt to create their own television station. This article had grown out of early research for a pictorial history of the Kurds. Five years later the result of that research has been published in a book, Kurdistan In the Shadow of History, published by Random House.  

Susan Meiselas, uniquely amongst great photographers, suffers from double vision. No sooner has she taken a photograph that she realises what is outside the frame; memory – history – that eternally absent nth of a second. She does not resolve the question of absence by photographing only a section of the subject, thus making of absence a virtue; she searches out those absent moments and then produces a book. Such has been her work in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Chile.

Her new book on Kurdistan In the Shadow of History is a testament to what blind Milton prayed for in Paradise Lost:  

Celestial light,
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, their plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight


In the case of the Kurds’ struggle for nationhood, ‘mortal sight’ due to ignorance, brutal censorship, prejudice, lack of time and the sheer competition of other images, has all but obliterated the political and private histories of the Kurdish nation.  

Susan Meiselas has, through photography, given a sight back, not only to the Kurds who have had to hide their history and language deep under the ground but also to Western readers, so often indifferent to and ignorant of this extraordinary story.  

By collecting photographs from early travellers, anthropologists, colonialists; by collating records and stories of past struggles; and by documenting the present through her own and other colleagues’ photographs, this book drapes the Kurdish diaspora in its ever-present colours of desired nationhood. But that ‘drape’ does not attempt to hide the complexities of those stories either – thus the virtues of Susan Meiselas’ double vision.  

To accompany the book Susan Meiselas has opened up a web site for the Kurdish people to tell their own stories, the web site is