Susan Meiselas: Breaching Boundaries in Images

Susan Meiselas: Breaching Boundaries in Images

Even the look-and-listen app with the last Nicaragua book was an attempt to try and shift the way we experience subjects in photographs and create the channel for their voice to bridge this terrible distance that can still exist in photographs.

When did you join Magnum?

I had a very small assignment from Harper’s to photograph women at the 1976 Democratic convention. If you’re major media, you get a pass, or multiple passes, and you can move freely. But if you’re a small international or national publication, you only get a rotating pass for 15 minutes. You barely can get on the floor and do any work before you have to give up that pass.

I was agonizing because it was one of my first assignments and I was failing. I just couldn’t make the photographs I was hoping to because of the system. I went up to the guy running this and said: “Look, this isn’t working for all of us on the line and we’ve got to change the system. Even if we only had a half-hour we could produce something.” Gilles Peres happened to be near and asked if I wanted to borrow one of the passes he had. I said, “No, I want to change the system.” So he loved that.

I wasn’t on the path of becoming a professional photographer. I didn’t really have at the time a sense of Magnum, its history or what it would mean to join a cooperative. He asked me what I was doing and I had this portfolio of work that I brought up to Magnum and they asked if they could propose me in their upcoming meeting.

Well, you’ve always been a troublemaker.

Ah, thanks a lot, I don’t think of myself as a troublemaker, I just think of myself as trying to think out of the box a bit. Sometimes getting boxed in kills the spirit.

You grow by breaching those boundaries and by not being constrained by what other people think you are or should be. You have to sustain that within yourself because very often you don’t get the support, the external support.

A lot of the work of Magnum Foundation, for me, is helping to create a supportive community. And helping young, emerging and diverse voices feel that they can find others and create networks with other possibilities through us and with us but beyond us.

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