Best known for his work covering the political upheavals in Central America in the 1970s and '80s, Harry Mattison's life is one of extraordinary encounters and events. Surviving the death squads of El Salvador and Nicaragua, he went on to be present in the last days of apartheid in South Africa, documented the expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon to Tunisia, and witnessed some of the most spectacular political events of those decades.
During the years of hard-bitten journalism, questions of ethics raised by documentary practice were of central concern to Mattison. His own decision to abandon the pretense of impartial journalist (he was then photographic bureau chief for Time) to become an impassioned participant in a Soweto anti-apartheid rally in South Africa caused him to be ejected from that country, accused of "disseminating images of unrest." Mattison later made a decision to change his path to a more reflective one, and in the next decades, as a professor of political philosophy, he documented inner city Washington, Minnesota's Iron Range, and, in an ongoing multi-year project these last years, charted the unfolding psychological landscape underpinning modern China.
In this process Mattison has grappled with pivotal questions about a photographer's relationship to his subject, the use of images in the media, and the relationship of images to history and memory.