Susan Meiselas

The writer Samuel Johnson contended that "curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last." It is a sentiment perfectly capturing the twists, the turns, the audacity, and the genius that have given shape and meaning to your inimitable career as a photographer. For more than forty years, you have placed your trust in serendipity and personal freedom, following your artistic impulse to encounters with esoteric subjects, remote places, unexamined human experience, and events shaping the course of history. Committed to understanding and explaining the world on your own terms, you discovered a distinctive place for meeting the subjects of your photography, allowing you to produce unforgettable images that contextualize and humanize. These pictures gain their stunning power not simply by telling the stories of those rarely heard, but by doing so honestly and respectfully. They are photographs that faithfully encompass a reality beyond the frame and allow your subjects to speak for themselves, free from judgment and misinterpretation. You have always acknowledged the good fortune of being raised by parents who encouraged your imagination and your independence. Inspired by your graduate studies at Harvard, you chose the camera as your tool for exploring the world and embarked on an unconventional path that led you to New England’s traveling carnivals, encounters with strippers whom you ad mired for their strength and grit, and Nicaragua a t the dawn of the Sandinista Revolution, where you succeeded in showing the world the mix of hope and violence in that war-torn nation. For your accomplishments, you were awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. You continued to be drawn to subterranean injustices, which you sought to document and, through the testimony of your camera, combat. To Kurdistan you went, where you created a visual history of a resilient people still grappling with the trauma of attempted genocide. It is the rare artist who chooses subjects based on personal fascination and then infuses their portrayal with a profound humanity. Always your work is driven by a searching intellect and larger purpose. For your open mind, generous spirit, and a life lived in celebration of the value of curiosity, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.