Susan Meiselas (born 1948) is an American documentary photographer. She has been associated with Magnum Photos since 1976 and a full member since 1980. Her works have been published in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Times, Time, GEO and Paris Match. She received the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 1979 and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1992. In 2006, she was awarded The Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography.
Meiselas was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She attended junior high school in Woodmere, New York. She earned her BA at Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in visual education at Harvard University. She received a Honorary Doctorates in Fine Arts from the Parsons School in 1986 and from The Art Institute of Boston in 1996.
After earning her degree from Harvard, she worked as an assistant film editor on the Frederick Wiseman documentary, Basic Training. From 1972 to 1974 she worked for New York public schools, running workshops for teachers and children in the Bronx and designing photography curriculum for 4th-6th graders. She also worked for the State Arts Commissions of South Carolina and Mississippi setting up photography programs in rural schools. She also worked as a consultant for Polaroid and the Center for Understanding Media in New York City.
Her first major photography project documented strippers at New England fairs and carnivals, which she worked on during summers while teaching in New York public schools. The project resulted in an exhibition at the Whitney Museum and a book, Carnival Strippers, which incorporated audio interviews with the subjects on a CD packaged with the book. In the late 1970s Meiselas also documented the insurrection in Nicaragua and human rights issues in Latin America. In 1981, she visited a village destroyed by the armed forces in El Salvador and took pictures of the El Mozote massacre, working with journalists Raymond Bonner and Alma Guillermoprieto. Her photographs of the Nicaraguan Revolution have been incorporated into local textbooks in Nicaragua. Her 1991 documentary "Pictures from a Revolution" depicts her return to sites she photographed and conversations with subjects of the photographs as they reflect on the images 10 years after the war. In 2004, Meiselas returned to Nicaragua and installed 19 mural sized images of her photographs on the original locations where they were taken. The project was called "Reframing History."
Meiselas has published several books of her own photographs and has edited and contributed to many others. She edited and contributed to El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers(Writers & Readers, 1983). She edited Chile from Within (W.W. Norton, 1991). Beginning in 1992, she used MacArthur Foundation funding to curate a photographic history of Kurdistan, resulting in Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (Random House, 1997; reprinted by the University of Chicago Press, 2008), as well as a website and an exhibition at the Menil Collection. Pandora's box is a monograph of her work on S&M in New York. She also co-directed two films: Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family (1986) and Pictures from a Revolution (1991).
In 2007, Harper Magazine published an article titled, On the Rights of Molotov Man. This article is a collaboration between Susan Meiselas and Joy Garnett on the topic of the use of Meiselas's photo in Garnett's gallery showing.
"I don’t want to relinquish the role and the necessity of witnessing and the photographic act as a response, a responsible response. But I also don’t want to assume in a kind of naïve way … that the act of the making of the image is enough. What’s enough? And what can we know in this process of making, publishing, reproducing, exposing, and recontextualizing work in book or exhibition form? … I can only hope that it registers a number of questions."
- In History: Susan Meiselas. Edited by Kristen Lubben. Text by Susan Meiselas, Caroline Brothers, Edmundo Desnoes, Ariel Dorfman, Elizabeth Edwards and David Levi Strauss. USA/Germany: ICP/Steidl Verlag, 2008. ISBN 978-3-86521-685-4
- Encounters with the Dani. USA/Germany: ICP/Steidl Verlag, 2003. ISBN 978-3-88243-930-4
- Pandora’s Box. Denmark: Magnum Editions/Trebruk, 2001. ISBN 978-0-9538901-1-8
- Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History. USA: Random House, 1997. USA:University of Chicago Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-226-51928-9
- Chile From Within. Photographs by Paz Errazuriz et al. Texts by Ariel Dorfman and Marco Antonio de la Parra. USA: W.W. Norton, 1993. ASIN B001F9BUBS
- El Salvador: The Work of 30 Photographers. USA: Pantheon, 1983.
- Nicaragua, June 1978 - July 1979. USA: Pantheon, 1981, ISBN 978-0-906495-67-4. USA: Aperture, 2008, ISBN 978-1-59711-071-6
- Carnival Strippers. USA: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976; Germany: Steidl, 2003. ISBN 978-3-88243-954-0
- Learn to See (a collaboration with the Polaroid Corporation), USA: Polaroid Foundation, 1975.
Awards and Grants
- Harvard Arts Medal (2011)
- The Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2006.
- Cornell Capa Infinity Award (2005)
- Nederlands Foto Instituut Grant, "Photoworks-in-Progress: Constructing Identity," (1999)
- Hasselblad Award (1994)
- Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University for her coverage of Latin America (1994)
- MacArthur Fellowship (1992)
- Engelhard Award from the Institute of Contemporary Art (1985)
- Leica Award for Excellence (1982)
- American Society of Media Photographers Photojournalist of the Year (1982)
- Robert Capa Gold Medal for “outstanding courage and reporting” by the Overseas Press Club for her work in Nicaragua (1978)
- Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
- Library of Congress, Washington DC
- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO
- Hasselblad Center, Sweden
- Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany
- Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California
- The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
- St. Louis Museum of Art, Missouri
- Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, California
- George Eastman House, Rochester, NY, USA
- Fogg Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- University of California, Riverside
- Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland
- Haverford College, Pennsylvania
- International Center of Photography, New York City
- Magnum Photos Collection at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin
- Maryland art source
- Reframing History web gallery
- Magnum Photos biography
- Personal website
- Bui, Phong (November 2008). "In Conversation: Susan Meiselas with Phong Bui". The Brooklyn Rail.
- Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Award
- Nelson-Atkins Museum Collection
- Personal website
- Magnum Photos
- aka Kurdistan
- Photos from Kurdistan
- Expanding the Circle: The Engaged Photographer multimedia piece