Susan Meiselas at the Skoll World Forum


On April 17, Magnum Foundation President Susan Meiselas was invited to speak at the Closing Plenary for the 2015 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. In her talk, she explores the theme of “what photographs can do” and what patient capital is to an invested photographer - the very substance of our work at the MF. You can watch Susan’s presentation here

EL SALVADOR. Arcatao, Chalatenango province. 1980. “Mano blanca,” signature of the death squads left on the door of a slain peasant organizer. (EL SALVADOR, cover) ©Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

 “…as photographers, we don’t actually go out to take iconic images. In 1980, I made this image of the Mano Blanca in El Salvador. It registers the white hand left by the death squads left on the door of a Campesino leader, who had just been killed. That signature spread more fear than the killing itself. The photograph continues to have an ongoing life, and act a testimony…Staying in Central America for more than a decade, I wanted to immerse and capture the imminent to connect a distant audience, as well as impact the lives within the frame. It takes time to build in-depth relationships and trust across a cultural divide. For an invested photographer, this is our patient capital.”



EL SALVADOR. 1980. Soldiers search bus passengers along the Northern Highway. ©Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

“Photographs perform a claim, though it often takes decades to hold anyone accountable for the abuses they document…The interrogation of bus passengers, a daily event at a military checkpoint on the main highway. I, like other photographers, am driven by a necessity to bare witness. Without knowing what I will find, where the commitment will lead, how it might change me, or how history will unfold.”

Liberty Plaza, New York. 2011. ©Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

Liberty Plaza, New York. 2011. ©Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

“In the wake of 9/11, photography was propelled into a digital age that would launch the democracy of a medium, with more cameras, phones, and eyes that we could ever imagine. That shift would also unleash the participation of millions of desperate global voices, and create perpetual, viral exchange. We are now overstimulated and overwhelmed with multi-source content; we’re linked, but we live in distinctly separate worlds, with algorithms dictating what we see; we are at risk of greater fragmentation with images further decontextualized – In this oversaturated digital world, what can photographs do now? This is the environment we are all navigating today…How can technology intensify our focus to feel and impact the world beyond ourselves? The challenge is to sustain critical, independent, intelligent eyes on the world. Despite the disruption of our mass media, the proliferation of imagery and our selfie-culture, documentary photographers are still committed and determined to bare witness. They still believe in what photographs can do, and so do I.”

Watch the full presentation here!

Simone Salvo