It was 16 July 1979, the day before President Anastasio Somoza Debayle fled Nicaragua and the Sandinista insurgents gained control of the country. As American documentary photographer Susan Meiselas pressed her shutter and captured Pablo de Jesus "Bareta" Araúz on the point of throwing a Molotov cocktail, she created what has become an iconic image of the revolution. In 2016, Time magazine declared the photo, known as Molotov Man, one of the 100 most influential photographs of all time.
A member of Magnum Photos since 1976, Susan has documented social and political issues in Latin America and globally for more than 40 years. She has pioneered projects to document cultural and social memory, including curating a hundred-year photographic history of Kurdistan and spending six years working with indigenous people of the highlands of Papua.
Still working in her 70s, Susan won the 2019 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize. The prize organisers declared she had "made a consistently outstanding contribution to photography, influencing the way that audiences encounter and understand the form and exemplifying a commitment and personal investment to her subject matter and subjects that has left an indelible mark on the history of photography."
She was also the recipient of the 2019 Kraszna-Krausz Fellowship Award, which "recognises photographers whose careers exemplify the highest standards of photography book production, and who have inspired creativity, created rigorous projects, and have had a lasting impact on both their fellow artists and the practice of image-making."
Susan has authored books on many of her major projects – from Carnival Strippers, which documents America’s traveling ‘girl shows’ in the early 1970s, through to A Room of Their Own, which portrays experiences of women in a UK women's refuge. "Books have always been a vital form for me to bring my work together, building around what I've seen while giving presence to other voices and contextualising materials," she says.
Here, Susan shares five things she's learnt across her distinguished career and life in photography, from her creative approach to the ongoing evolution of her imagery.