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Nicaragua | Susan Meiselas

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In 1978, as violence and revolution gripped Nicaragua, Susan Meiselas traveled there to document the fall of the stifling Somoza regime there. She took many powerful images of the Sandinistas revolt, including the photo later came to be known as ‘The Molotov Man’. Unlike her other photos from Nicaragua, the photo above was not published anywhere at the time, but only reproduced in her book, emphatically named, “Nicaragua: June, 1978-July, 1979″, which is considered to be one of the best photojournalistic works.

The photo was taken on July 16, 1979, the day before Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the last of the Somozas who had ruled Nicaragua since 1936; a Sandinistas rebel — later revealed to be a man named Pablo Arauz) was throwing a bomb at a Somoza national guard garrison — an image made all the more ironic by the pepsi-cola bottle he had appropriated to hurl at the nepotist regime long-supported by the United States. In the end, the Somoza-Sandinistas conflict left 40,000 people dead (1.5 percent of the population); 40,000 children orphaned; and over 200,000 families (one fifth of the population) homeless. Another hauntingly beautiful Meiselas photo show the smoke rising from the city of Esteli as a Somaza bomber departs the scene like some silhouetted cormorant.

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As for The Molotov Man, it would later play a crucial role in a copyrights debate. In 2004, Joy Garnett, an appropriation artist based one of her paintings on the photo. Meiselas issued a cease and desist letter and demanded rights to the painting. Viral internet outrage followed; and two years later, two artists reached a compromise, appearing jointly at a fair-use symposium and penning together an article on the whole controversy in Harper’s (pdf).

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 3, 2013 at 8:53 am

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