Molotov Man

Photograph by Susan Meiselas

Molotov Man kept appearing and reappearing, used by different players for different purposes.

Susan Meiselas

Molotov Man

  • Susan Meiselas
  • 1979

Susan Meiselas traveled to Nicaragua in the late 1970s as a young photographer with an anthropologist’s eye, keen to make sense of the struggle between the long-standing Somoza dictatorship and the socialist Sandinistas fighting to overthrow it. For six weeks she roamed the country, documenting a nation of grinding poverty, stunning natural beauty and wrenching inequality. Meiselas’ work was sympathetic to the Sandinista cause, and she gained the trust of the revolutionaries as they slowly prevailed in the fight. On the day before President Anastasio Somoza Debayle fled, Meiselas photographed Pablo de Jesus “Bareta” Araúz lobbing a Molotov cocktail at one of the last national guard fortresses. After the Sandinistas took power, the image became the defining symbol of the revolution—a reviled dictator toppled by a ragtag army of denim-clad fighters wielding makeshift weapons. Eagerly disseminated by the Sandinistas, Molotov Man soon became ubiquitous throughout Nicaragua, appearing on matchbooks, T-shirts, billboards and brochures. It later became a flash point in the debate over artistic appropriation when the painter Joy Garnett used it as the basis of her 2003 painting Molotov.

Hear Susan Meiselas explain why her photo became a symbol

How Meiselas captured her iconic photo

See how Meiselas' image has been used around the world

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