Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Nicaragua | Susan Meiselas

with 4 comments


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, a day before Anastasio Somoza Debayle — the last of the Somozas who had ruled Nicaragua since 1936 — fled the country. 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. The Sandinistas eagerly reproduced the photo, which appeared on matchbooks, T-shirts, billboards and brochures throughout the country.

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.


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).



Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 3, 2013 at 8:53 am

4 Responses

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  1. i love this blog. whenever you post, it’s consistently interesting. thank you!


    March 3, 2013 at 9:12 am

  2. Very interesting the reply of Susan Meiselas. Her comments make me think about the recent issue about the caption of an awarded photo of Paolo Pellegrin.


    March 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm

  3. Great posting, as usual, with one exception. The C-47/DC-3 pictured is not, nor was it ever built or modified, as a bomber. I suppose you could drop hand grenades out the windows or jump/cargo door, but it would still be a cargo/transport plane. Most likely it was flying over observing.

    It would be interesting to know what the stickers on Pablo Arauzas’ rifle butt are, or represent. I remember our phone having the Chiquita and Dole banana stickers on it at about the same time.


    March 4, 2013 at 2:30 am

  4. […] (a subject beautifully captured in Susan Meiselas’s documentary, Pictures from a Revolution; “Molotov Man,” Meiselas’s best know photograph from the revolution, became iconic; Gioconda Belli’s […]

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