On behalf the RAI, the Photography Committee is thrilled to announce that this year’s annual Photography Studies award is presented to the photographer and scholar Susan Meiselas.

The award is given in recognition of the influential contribution of a scholar and/or practitioner to the broader fields of anthropology and photography.

This year, we are presenting Susan Meiselas the award during the Citizens of Photography Symposium. ‘Citizens of Photography: The Camera and the Political Imagination’ is a five-year ERC funded project based at University College London exploring the political possibility of photographic representation across the world, with case studies focused on Nigeria, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Greece, Bangladesh, Nepal and Nicaragua. Susan Meiselas is a member of the advisory committee for the project.

Dr Ileana Selejan, a postdoctoral researcher on the Citizens of Photography project, summarizes Susan Meiselas contribution to our understandings of the political affordances and possibilities of photography:

“Throughout her multifaceted career, Susan Meiselas has made tremendous contributions to the field of photography, at the intersection with human rights and anthropology. Her interest in multidisciplinary approaches, the ability to move and shift her own viewing position along with her subject, to reflect upon the intricate politics of representation, the depth of analysis and critical acuity, her many departures and returns, enable a shared ground upon which her projects unfold. Her commitment to photography’s social mission is revealed from the very beginning of her career, through projects such as ‘Carnival Strippers’ (1972–1975), published in book form in 1976, which profiled women working in ‘girl shows’ at summer carnivals in New England, in the United States, and which combined observational documentary work and audio testimonies. She became a member of the prestigious agency Magnum Photos thereafter.

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s she worked in collaboration with various local actors and organizations to expose human rights abuses in Latin America, tirelessly documenting the consequences of armed conflict in Central America. Her most extensive body of work developed around Nicaragua, starting with her photographic documentation of the Sandinista popular insurrection of 1978-79 and the publication of the book ‘Nicaragua: June 1978 - July 1979’ (1981). Over the past four decades, she has continued to work in the country, re-visiting this work, observing how the memory of the revolution continues to impact everyday life. Her documentary ‘Pictures From a Revolution’ (1991) explored the afterlives of these photographs, through the lived experience of their protagonists, ordinary citizens who participated in the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship. Later installations, such as the mural project ‘Reframing History’ (2004) and ‘Mediations (1978–1982)’ which concerns the circulation of her photographs through international media channels, and popular culture, have likewise presented opportunities to reflect upon the fluidity of photography, its shifting meanings within any given context.

Subsequently, Meiselas’ work moved onto further geographies, exploring an ever-diversifying range of experimental and multimedia approaches. Her book and exhibition project ‘Encounters with the Dani’ (2003) took on a quintessential anthropological subject. Following her trip to the Baliem Valley in New Guinea together with anthropologist and filmmaker Robert Gardner, she sought to document the ways in which the Dani ‘have been seen by travellers, anthropologists, missionaries, colonialists, and perhaps themselves throughout this century and, through available technology, create access to that work and a dialogue with the Dani about that representation.’ Later, her project ‘Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History’ (1991–2007) would likewise seek to revert the photographer’s gaze, mobilizing resources towards the creation of a communal visual archive of the Kurdish people. The website akaKURDISTAN (1998) culled photographs, videos, and accounts from around the world providing an invaluable repository for collective memory. Like many of her projects to date, here too, the photographer seeks to serve as a conduit, and a mediator, to enable a conversation through the photographic image.

Meiselas has been the President of the Magnum Foundation since its founding in 2007. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1992, and has received numerous awards and prizes, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal for her work in Nicaragua (1979), the Hasselblad Foundation Photography prize (1994), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), the Cornell Capa Infinity Award (2005) and the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize (2019). Her recent survey exhibition, ‘Mediations’ was on view at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Jeu de Paume, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Instituto Moreira Salles (2018-2020).”

The award will be given during the symposium at 3.20 on Thursday 16 September 2021. Please the full programme and register using this link: https://citizensofphotography.org/virtual-programme-15-17-september/