Susan Meiselas

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Susan Meiselas
BornJune 21, 1948
Alma materSarah Lawrence College, Harvard University
Known forphotos from 1970s insurrection in Nicaragua

Susan Meiselas (born June 21, 1948) is an American documentary photographer. She has been associated with Magnum Photos since 1976 and been a full member since 1980. She is best known for her 1970s photographs of war-torn Nicaragua and American carnival strippers.[1]

Meiselas 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.[2] In 2006, she was awarded The Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship[3] and in 2019 the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.

After a relationship that spanned more than thirty years, she married filmmaker Richard P. Rogers[4] shortly before his death in 2001.[5]


Meiselas was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She attended junior high school in Woodmere, New York. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in 1970 from Sarah Lawrence College and an Master of Arts in visual education from Harvard University, where she was a student of Barbara Norfleet.[6][7] She received Honorary Doctorates in Fine Arts from the Parsons School in 1986 and The Art Institute of Boston in 1996.[8]


After earning her degree from Harvard, Meiselas was an assistant film editor on the Frederick Wiseman documentary Basic Training. From 1972 to 1974, she worked for New York City public schools, running workshops for teachers and children in the Bronx and designing photography curricula for 4th–6th graders.[9] In the mid 1970s, Meiselas began working on a project she later titled the Prince Street Girls, a series that features young and adolescent girls from Little Italy in New York City.[10] She also worked for the State Arts Commissions of South Carolina and Mississippi setting up photography programs in rural schools and served as a consultant to Polaroid and the Center for Understanding Media in New York City.[11]

Her first major photography project documented strippers at New England fairs and carnivals, which she worked on during summers while teaching in the New York City public schools. The project resulted in an exhibition at the Whitney Museum and a book, Carnival Strippers, that incorporated audio interviews with the subjects on a CD packaged with the book.[12]

Man in Nicaragua throwing Molotov cocktail.
Molotov Man by Meiselas

In the late 1970s, Meiselas documented the insurrection in Nicaragua and human rights issues in Latin America. Her most notable photograph from this project was Molotov Man, which depicts a man (later identified as 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 hand. The became a symbol of the Sandinista 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 painting Molotov, thus becoming a prominent case-study of the appropriation, transformation, and quotation in art.[13][14] Her photographs of the Nicaraguan Revolution have been incorporated into local textbooks in Nicaragua. Her 1991 documentary film, Pictures from a Revolution, depicts her return to sites she photographed and conversations with subjects of the photographs as they reflect on the images ten years after the war.[15] In 2004, Meiselas returned to Nicaragua to install nineteen mural-size images of her photographs at the locations where they were taken. The project was called "Reframing History."[16]

In 1981, she visited a village destroyed by government forces in El Salvador and took pictures of the El Mozote massacre, working with journalists Raymond Bonner and Alma Guillermoprieto.

Beginning in 1992, Meiselas 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, akaKurdistan.[17]

In a 2008 interview with Phong Bui in The Brooklyn Rail, Meiselas says:

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.[18]

Over several months in 2015 and 2016, Meiselas worked on a project about women in refuges in the Black Country area of the West Midlands, England.[1][19] The project was made in collaboration with Multistory, a local community arts charity, which published a book of the work, A Room of Their Own (2017).


Publications by Meiselas[edit]

  • Learn to See. USA: Polaroid Foundation, 1975. A collaboration with the Polaroid Corporation.
  • Carnival Strippers. USA: Farrar, Straus and 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. New York: Aperture, 2008, ISBN 978-1-59711-071-6.
  • El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers. USA: Pantheon, 1983; Writers and Readers, 1983.
  • 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. 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 Meiselas, Caroline Brothers, Edmundo Desnoes, Ariel Dorfman, Elizabeth Edwards and David Levi Strauss. USA/Germany: International Center of Photography/Steidl, 2008. ISBN 978-3-86521-685-4. Published in conjunction with an exhibition.
  • Prince Street Girls.
    • Paris: Yellow Magic Books, 2013. Edition of 200 copies.
    • Oakland, CA: TBW Books, 2017. Subscription Series #5, Book #2. ISBN 978-1-942953-28-9. Edition of 1000 copies. Meiselas, Mike Mandel, Bill Burke and Lee Friedlander each had one book in a set of four.
  • A Room of Their Own. West Bromwich, England: Multistory, 2017.
  • On the Frontline. New York City: Aperture, 2017. Edited by Mark Holborn. ISBN 9781597114271.

Publications edited by Meiselas[edit]

  • Chile From Within. Edited by Meiselas. USA: W.W. Norton, 1993. Photographs by Paz Errazuriz et al. ASIN B001F9BUBS. Texts by Ariel Dorfman and Marco Antonio de la Parra. ISBN 9780393306538.


  • Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family (1986) – co-directed by Meiselas
  • Pictures from a Revolution (1991) – co-directed with Alfred Guzzetti and Richard P. Rogers
  • Roses in December (1982)- features Meiselas’ stills of the churchwomen’s gravesite.



Meiselas' work is held in the following permanent collections:



  1. ^ a b "Photographer Susan Meiselas on documenting women’s refuges". Rachel Cooke, The Observer, 21 My 2017. Accessed 24 May 2017
  2. ^ a b "Susan Meiselas". MacArthur Foundation.
  3. ^ a b Accessed 7 November 2018
  4. ^ "Richard Rogers, Harvard Film Teacher, 57". The New York Times. 2001-07-18. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  5. ^ Lambert, Craig. "The Windmill Movie: Two filmmakers collaborate across the gulf between life and death". Harvard Magazine.
  6. ^ "A Conversation with Susan Meiselas '70, Eduardo Cadava, and Joel Sternfeld". Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  7. ^ Harrison J. A Lens on History, Harvard Magazine Nov-Dec 2010
  8. ^ Hudson, Berkley (2009). Sterling, Christopher H. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Journalism. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE. pp. 1060–67. ISBN 978-0-7619-2957-4.
  9. ^ Estrin, James (2018-07-03). "Susan Meiselas: Breaching Boundaries in Photography". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Maryland art source
  12. ^ a b "Susan Meiselas". The Museum of Modern Art.
  13. ^ Stephen Marvin, 'Copyright Innovation in Art', International Journal of Conservation Science, 4 (2013), 729-734 (pp. 731--72).
  14. ^ 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),
  15. ^ "Pictures from a Revolution (1991)". IMDb. 5 October 1991.
  16. ^ "''Reframing History'' web gallery". Archived from the original on 2014-08-27. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  17. ^ "aka KURDISTAN | INTRODUCTION". Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  18. ^ Bui, Phong (November 2008). "In Conversation: Susan Meiselas with Phong Bui". The Brooklyn Rail.
  19. ^ "Stories: A Room of Their Own: Susan Meiselas". Multistory. Accessed 24 May 2017
  20. ^ "Artist: Susan Meiselas". International Center For Photography.
  21. ^ "Susan Meiselas". Hemispheric Institute.
  22. ^ "Susan Meiselas". New York University Tech.
  23. ^ "Past Maria Moors Cabot Prizes Winners:" (PDF). Columbia University. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  24. ^ "ICP New York honours Peter Magubane". Art South Africa. Archived from the original on 2016-09-16.
  25. ^ "Susan Meiselas", Hasselblad Foundation. Accessed 5 January 2015.
  26. ^ "2005 Infinity Award: Cornell Capa Award". International Center of Photography, 4 April 2005. Accessed 24 May 2017
  27. ^ "Susan Meiselas Named Harvard Arts Medalist". Harvard Magazine, 22 December 2010. Accessed 24 May 2017
  28. ^ "Susan Meiselas". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
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  39. ^ "Susan Meiselas". Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ "October 11, 2017 – January 14, 2018", Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Accessed 24 November 2017
  43. ^ "Susan Meiselas: Mediations: from 06 February 2018 until 20 May 2018: Concorde, Paris". Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume. Accessed 6 March 2018.
  44. ^ Cat Lachowskyj, "Huge Susan Meiselas retrospective goes on show in Paris on 06 February". British Journal of Photography, 17 January 2018. Accessed 6 March 2018.
  45. ^ "Susan Meiselas: from the dressing room to the danger zone - in pictures". The Guardian. London. 7 February 2018. Retrieved 6 March 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Amanpour, Christiane (1999). Magna brava : Eve Arnold, Martine Franck, Susan Meiselas, Inge Morath, Marilyn Silverstone. Munich: Prestel. p. 240. ISBN 3791321609.
  • Golden, Reuel (2011). Photojournalism : 150 years of outstanding press photography ([New ed.] ed.). London: Carlton. p. 256. ISBN 9781847326362.

External links[edit]