Susan Meiselas (born 1948) is an American documentary photographer. She has been associated with Magnum Photos since 1976 and a full member since 1980. She has published several books of her own photographs and has edited and contributed to others. 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.
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. Her most famous photograph from this project was Molotov Man, depicting a man (later found to be called Pablo 'Bareta' Aruaz) poised to throw a molotov cocktail, made from a Pepsi bottle, in his right hand, while holding a rifle in his left. This became famous in its Nicaraguan context as a symbol of the Sandanista revolution, and was widely reproduced and remixed in Nicaragua. Latterly, outside this context, it was reproduced via an internet meme based on Joy Garnett's 2003 reproduction Molotov, becoming a prominent case-study of re-use of art. 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.
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."
Beginning in 1992, she used MacArthur Foundation funding to curate a photographic history of Kurdistan, resulting in the book Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History and a corresponding website.
"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."
- Learn to See (a collaboration with the Polaroid Corporation), USA: Polaroid Foundation, 1975.
- Carnival Strippers. USA: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976; Germany: Steidl, 2003. ISBN 978-3-88243-954-0
- Nicaragua, June 1978 - July 1979. USA: Pantheon, 1981, ISBN 978-0-906495-67-4. USA: Aperture, 2008, ISBN 978-1-59711-071-6
- El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers. USA: Pantheon, 1983; Writers and Readers, 1983.
- Chile From Within. Edited by Meiselas. Photographs by Paz Errazuriz et al. Texts by Ariel Dorfman and Marco Antonio de la Parra. USA: W.W. Norton, 1993. ASIN B001F9BUBS
- Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History. USA: Random House, 1997. USA: University of Chicago Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-226-51928-9
- Pandora’s Box. Denmark: Magnum Editions/Trebruk, 2001. ISBN 978-0-9538901-1-8. A monograph of her work on S&M in New York.
- Encounters with the Dani. USA/Germany: International Center of Photography/Steidl, 2003. ISBN 978-3-88243-930-4
- 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
- Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family (1986). Co-directed.
- Pictures from a Revolution (1991). Meiselas co-directed with Alfred Guzzetti and Richard P. Rogers.
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- Robert Capa Gold Medal for “outstanding courage and reporting” by the Overseas Press Club for her work in Nicaragua (1978)
- American Society of Media Photographers Photojournalist of the Year (1982)
- Leica Award for Excellence (1982)
- Engelhard Award from the Institute of Contemporary Art (1985)
- MacArthur Fellowship (1992)
- Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University for her coverage of Latin America (1994)
- Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism (1994)
- Hasselblad Award (1994).
- Nederlands Foto Instituut Grant, "Photoworks-in-Progress: Constructing Identity," (1999)
- Cornell Capa Infinity Award (2005)
- The Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in 2006.
- Harvard Arts Medal (2011)
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- Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland
- Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
- Fogg Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- George Eastman House, Rochester, NY, USA
- Hasselblad Center (sv), Sweden
- Haverford College, Pennsylvania
- International Center of Photography, New York City
- Library of Congress, Washington DC
- Magnum Photos Collection at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin
- Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
- Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, California
- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California
- St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri
- The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
- University of California, Riverside
- Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
- Maryland art source
- Stephen Marvin, 'Copyright Innovation in Art', International Journal of Conservation Science, 4 (2013), 729-734 (pp. 731--72).
- Joy Garnett and Susan Meiselas, 'On the Rights of Molotov Man: Appropriation and the Art of Context', Harper's Magazine (February 2007), 53-58 (pp. 56-57), http://www.firstpulseprojects.com/On-the-Rights-of-Molotov-Man.pdf.
- "''Reframing History'' web gallery". Susanmeiselas.com. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
- Bui, Phong (November 2008). "In Conversation: Susan Meiselas with Phong Bui". The Brooklyn Rail.
- "Susan Meiselas", Hasselblad Foundation. Accessed 5 January 2015.
- "Nelson-Atkins Museum Collection". Nelson-atkins.org. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
- Official website
- Profile at Magnum Photos
- aka Kurdistan
- Photos from Kurdistan
- Expanding the Circle: The Engaged Photographer multimedia piece