The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center was filled with students and staff for Scott Wallace’s exhibition titled “In The Crosshairs: Dispatches From Central America, 1983-1990.” It was accompanied by a panel discussion and reception on the Central American crisis, an eruption of civil wars across Central America.
The director of the Dodd Center, Glenn Mitoma, provided a brief introduction and was followed by discussion moderator Alexis Boylan, associate professor of art history, who introduced the three journalists to the stage. The acclaimed journalists were Jon Lee Anderson, Robert Nickelsberg and Wallace. Anderson has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1998, Nickelsberg worked with Time magazine and Wallace is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut and a frequent contributor to National Geographic.
Before the discussion, a brief video was played in which Wallace provided background to the civil wars and communist revolutions that occurred in Central America between the late 70s and early 90s. In Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, revolutions were transpiring and the three journalists met there while working as freelancers. Wallace was particularly interested in the countryside, so he was able to witness recruits training in counter-insurgency tactics and connect with the locals who had been affected by the war.
At the beginning of the discussion, Boylan asked the journalists about their origins. Nickelsberg got his credentials because papers were more open to freelance film and he wanted to illustrate foreign policy. Wallace was sent to El Salvador as a foreign correspondent for CBS News straight out of journalism school. Anderson was drawn to Central America and simply wanted to experience and live through history, which led to his involvement in journalism.
Throughout the rest of the discussion, the panelists shared many of their experiences as American journalists. The correspondents present at the time developed a strong sense of camaraderie to keep each other safe and were often faced with difficult choices. They often found themselves walking a thin line between being a human being and a reporter. Wallace mentioned the issue of “…when you are being forced to choose to, as Anderson said, take a picture or save somebody who’s dying…that’s a dilemma.”
An important aspect of the work these journalists produced was that they aimed to humanize the situation by telling the stories of soldiers and civilians alike. It was also easier to engage with Latin American countries through diplomats and the native language; this was something that was not possible during the Vietnam War, according to Nickelsberg, due to more dramatic differences in culture and language.
Follwing the discussion, a reception was held for Wallace’s exhibition of photography and field reports from the time he spent as a foreign correspondent in Central America. Various students were in awe at the photographs and the hall was filled with attendees.
Hannah Smaglis, a sixth-semester art major, was interested in how the gallery showed “…a different take on a different part of photography.”
“In my major we’re based around the formalistic components of it,” Smaglis said. “I got to see how photography can be incorporated in such a different way, like not the artistic component of it, but the social influence of it.”
By the end of the night, Wallace was highly commended by students and staff alike for the quality of his work and the extent to which his work has been able to tell the stories of the people he photographed.
“The most exciting thing about this kind of work is having, essentially, a passport to go into the worlds of other people and other realities that would otherwise remain unknown to me,” Wallace said. “With a press card and with the right attitude, I can talk to people, from lowly farmers in Southeast Asia to heads of states. I think journalism is an amazing profession for that reason. It puts you in a place where you can witness history and speak to people from all walks of life, and photograph them.”
Brandon Barzola is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.