Photo exhibition in Chile’s capital reveals human face of 1973

Koen Wessing’s images capture the turbulence and shock in the streets of the capital during the immediate aftermath of the military coup of September 11, 1973.  

As a country, Chile stands out for its ongoing engagement with an often fractious and dramatic history. Contemporary art exhibits plumb the depths of a tumultuous 20th century, popular television series more closely resemble period dramas than slapstick sitcoms, and the subject of “memory” finds its way into the country’s best museums and top university curricula.
And for any student of history, the date of September 11, 1973 is rife with political, emotional and social significance, making the current exhibit at the Gabriela Mistral Center (GAM) in Santiago a must-see this summer.
Looking at the gritty, black and white images taken by Koen Wessing just days after the military coup of September 11, 1973, you can’t help but wonder just how the Dutch photographer got into such sensitive places and captured such revealing photos as he did.
“We don’t have these kinds of photos in Chile,” Ximena Villanueva, Director of Communications at the GAM, told The Santiago Times. “I don’t know how Koen Wessing did it.”
An internationally-acclaimed photojournalist from the Hollandse Hoogte press agency, who was compelled by a strong sense of empathy with the oppressed and the marginalized of the world, Wessing managed to provide human context to some of the most turbulent events in the 20th century.
Wessing came to Chile in the immediate aftermath of the coup and, clad in an inconspicuous grey suit, managed to shoot some of the most revealing images ever captured of the period.
The photographs are being displayed along with the audiovisual material that provides personal testimony of political prisoners and citizens who lived through the traumatic event.
“These images are much more artistic than anything we have seen from this period,” said Villanueva. “We are able to see the impact of the coup on everyday people, going about their everyday lives.”
The exhibition is open from Monday to Saturday, and will run until April 3. Entry is free.