Susan Meiselas documents Nicaragua in intense photos
Susan Meiselas - A street fighter. Managua, Nicaragua, 1979

Susan Meiselas – A street fighter. Managua, Nicaragua, 1979

Published on: Tuesday October 29, 2019

Background

During her long and successful career, Nicaragua is a subject that Susan Meiselas has continued to explore over the years. Susan Meiselas, a well-known American photographer got close to the Nicaraguan revolutionaries during the late 1970s. At first, she lived amidst the insurgents but when the danger became too real, she traded in the proximity for a 400-millimeter lens that allowed her to capture the ongoings in close range. As the Somoza family’s1 40-year-long authoritarian rule was brought down by the Sandinista National Liberation Front2 (FSLN), Meiselas was present to capture it all.

Through her decades-long career, Meiselas has managed to win several awards for her intensely moving images. She brings to her work an inquiring mind and a willingness to highlight the lives of her subjects as much as possible so that the audience can get deeper insights into the lives of the various subjects featured. From her first chief project, she had continued to delve deeply into the lives of her subjects, exploring not only the photos but the manner in which the photos she captures relates to history, politics, as well as memory.

Susan Meiselas - Muchachos await the counterattack by the National Guard, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Susan Meiselas – Muchachos await the counterattack by the National Guard, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Susan Meiselas - Nicaragua, 1978

Susan Meiselas – Nicaragua, 1978

Susan Meiselas - On the road to Managua. Masaya, Nicaragua, 1979

Susan Meiselas – On the road to Managua. Masaya, Nicaragua, 1979

Susan Meiselas - Popular forces begin their final offensive. Masaya, Nicaragua. June 8, 1979

Susan Meiselas – Popular forces begin their final offensive. Masaya, Nicaragua. June 8, 1979

Inspiration

Susan Meiselas acquired her education from Sarah Lawrence College before proceeding to get her masters in visual education from Harvard University. Her first major photographic assignment concentrated on the lives of several women that were at the time participating in striptease events in fairs all over New England. Meiselas photographed the participants of the striptease events over three successive summers while still teaching photography privately.

In 1976, Meiselas joined Magnum Photos where she has continued to serve as a freelance photographer since she joined. Although she worked on a series of assignments initially, she is most well known for her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America, and in Nicaragua specifically.

In the more than 30 years that Meiselas has worked as a photojournalist, she had transitioned occasionally from print photojournalism to video, film and social media. Her pictures challenge audiences to examine their relationships with the subjects and to reflect on how politics has impacted history and memory as human beings understand these components.

Susan Meiselas - Muchacho withdrawing from the commercial district of Masaya after three days of bombing, Masaya, Nicaragua

Susan Meiselas – Muchacho withdrawing from the commercial district of Masaya after three days of bombing, Masaya, Nicaragua

Susan Meiselas - The car of a Somoza informer burning in Managua, Nicaragua

Susan Meiselas – The car of a Somoza informer burning in Managua, Nicaragua

Susan Meiselas - The National Guard entering Esteli, Nicaragua

Susan Meiselas – The National Guard entering Esteli, Nicaragua

Susan Meiselas - Traditional mask used in the popular insurrection, Monimbo, Nicaragua, 1978

Susan Meiselas – Traditional mask used in the popular insurrection, Monimbo, Nicaragua, 1978

Artwork description and composition

In June 1978, Meiselas journeyed to Nicaragua to capture the captivating images of the Sandinista insurgency. The photographs that she captured during this time were reproduced widely in various news publications and accounts. One, in particular, titled Molotov Man, was actually utilized by the FSLN as their representation of the revolution. In 1981, she published several of the photographs that she captured during her time in a publication which she titled Nicaragua.

Susan Meiselas - Molotov Man, showing Sandinistas at the walls of the National Guard headquarters, Estelí, Nicaragua, July 16, 1979

Susan Meiselas – Molotov Man, showing Sandinistas at the walls of the National Guard headquarters, Estelí, Nicaragua, July 16, 1979

Molotov Man by Susan Meiselas used in FSLN posters

Susan Meiselas’ Molotov Man used in FSLN posters celebrating the triumph over Somoza, Nicaragua, July 1980

Molotov Man by Susan Meiselas used in political poster

Susan Meiselas’ Molotov Man used in sandinista poster to raise a popular militia, Nicaragua, 1982

Shepard Fairey / Obey - Molotov Man, 2006 inspired by Susan Meiselas' Molotov Man

Shepard Fairey / Obey – Molotov Man, 2006 inspired by Susan Meiselas’ Molotov Man

Pictures from a Revolution

Ten years later, she returned to Nicaragua with the publication in an effort to track down some of the subjects that she had already captured in 1978. The result of her trip was a film known as Pictures from a Revolution, which the artist created as a result of a collaboration between Alfred Guzzetti3 and Richard P. Rogers4. Through honest accounts from former Sandinistas, citizens, and counterinsurgents, Meiselas was able to explore the complexity of the Nicaraguan war effort, highlighting the violence and the hardship that persisted at that time in place of peace. Although Nicaragua was the first conflict that she ever chronicled, she would later proceed to El Salvador as well as Iraq to document the events of the Gulf War, which took place in 1991.

28 min 53 sec

Video: Susan Meiselas speaks about her work

4 min

Analysis

By taking the time out and by placing herself in various dangerous situations to capture the Nicaraguan insurgents in crisp and rich detail, Meiselas successfully managed to bring the horrible and bloody events of the Nicaraguan conflict to the rest of the world. Her images were highlighted in different international publications, and with their popularity, Meiselas became aware of the power of her work and her role as a photographer.

Meiselas’ photographs were instrumental in not just depicting the brutality of the war, but they also successfully managed to display the role of those taking part in the revolution, as well as their fears and motivations.
Although most of the photographs in her Nicaragua series were captured years ago, Meiselas continues to return to various locations in Central America whereby she traces the lives of the people she featured in her photographs years earlier. Her attempts to track down the subjects of her photos has resulted in varies films.

Susan Meiselas - A search along the highway to León, Nicaragua, 1979

Susan Meiselas – A search along the highway to León, Nicaragua, 1979

Susan Meiselas - Entering the central plaza in Managua to celebrate victory. Managua, Nicaragua. July 20, 1979

Susan Meiselas – Entering the central plaza in Managua to celebrate victory. Managua, Nicaragua. July 20, 1979

Susan Meiselas - Harvesting sugar cane near Leon. Nicaragua, 1979

Susan Meiselas – Harvesting sugar cane near Leon. Nicaragua, 1979

Susan Meiselas – Youths practice throwing contact bombs in a forest surrounding Monimbo, Nicaragua, June, 1978

Susan Meiselas – Youths practice throwing contact bombs in a forest surrounding Monimbo, Nicaragua, June, 1978

Reframing History, 2004

In particular, in 2004, she returned to Nicaragua to complete a project which she titled Reframing History, which was designed to explore the connection between the past and the present. For this project, she placed several murals that were made from her Nicaraguan series at various sites where the war-torn events of years earlier transpired. Her objective to return to these different scenes if the war was to encourage continued dialogue and remind people that social problems still have a past, present, and future.

Susan Meiselas - Twenty-fifth Anniversary mural project, Managua, Nicaragua, 2004

Susan Meiselas – Twenty-fifth Anniversary mural project, Managua, Nicaragua, 2004

Susan Meiselas - Cuesta del Plomo, showing a body on a hillside outside Managua, a well known site of many assassinations carried out by the National Guard, Managua, Nicaragua, 1981

Susan Meiselas – Cuesta del Plomo, showing a body on a hillside outside Managua, a well known site of many assassinations carried out by the National Guard, Managua, Nicaragua, 1981

More

Related articles
Related readings
  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somoza_family
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandinista_National_Liberation_Front
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Guzzetti
  4. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0737144/
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