Susan Meiselas wins Deutsche Börse photography prize

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The 2019 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize has been awarded to Susan Meiselas for her first European retrospective Mediations, which spanned four decades of work, and was on show at Jeu de Paume, Paris, in 2018.  

Mediations was the most comprehensive European retrospective of Meiselas’ work to date. It comprised landmark projects from the beginning of her career including Prince Street Girls and Carnival Strippers, along with her extensive coverage of the 1978 Nicaraguan revolution and human rights issues across Latin America. For the Photographers’ Gallery exhibition, Meiselas chose to present work from her ongoing engagement with the Kurdish diaspora, also featured in Mediations, which she discussed in an interview with BJP-online this week.

When asked by BJP-online, during the interview, what she hopes that viewers will take away from the work, Meiselas replied: “A deeper appreciation of the experience of the Kurds and others who have had to flee their homelands who face unpredictable conditions with no safe return.” In 1991, Meiselas arrived in Kurdistan to bare witness to the devastation and death caused by Saddam Hussein’s genocidal Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds. This sparked an ongoing engagement with the Kurdish diaspora, and an ever-expanding network of scholars and researchers, to create a ‘sourcebook of suppressed history’. Today, the constantly evolving work spans a book –Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History – a website –akaKurdistan – and a series of workshops to collect the memories of Kurds around the world. 

Selected from a shortlist that also comprised Laia Abril, Arwed Messmer, and Mark Ruwedel, Meiselas was recognised for her ongoing commitment to socially-engaged photography, and a deep awareness of the responsibility of the photographer in relation to their subjects. “Susan’s consistent approach to the medium and her personal investment in the stories, histories, and communities she documents has carved out a new and important form of socially engaged photography,” said the Jury Chair, Brett Rogers OBE, Director of The Photographers’ Gallery.

Meiselas, who joined Magnum Photos in 1976, has also been awarded the Kraszna-Krausz Fellowship Award 2019 for her outstanding contributions to photography book publishing. Her approach to the medium is unique: working collaboratively with her subjects over an extended period of time. “Collaboration has always been very important to me personally over the course of my practice as a photographer,” she explained in a recent interview with BJP-online. “I began thinking about the participation of the ‘subject’ in my first project– 44 Irving Street – and again, bringing voices to counterbalance my images in their representation, with Carnival Strippers. Each time the dialogue with the camera opens up more questions that lead me to consider alternative ways of inclusion.”

The Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2019 exhibition is on display at The Photographers’ Gallery London until 02 June 2019.

Villagers watch exhumation at a former Iraqi military headquarters outside Sulaymaniyah. Northern Iraq. 1991. © Susan Meiselas
Dee and Lisa on Mott Street, Little Italy, New York, 1976. © Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos
Muchachos await the counter attack by the National Guard, NICARAGUA. Matagalpa, 1978-1979. © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos
Lena on the Bally Box. USA. Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973. © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos
Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.