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How Susan Meiselas Became an Extraordinary Documentary Photographer

  • Susan Meiselas, Debbie and Renee, Rockland, Maine, 1972. From the series Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975 (detail)
December 27, 2017
A philosophy graduate interested in theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

Throughout her prolific career that spans several decades, the lauded photographer Susan Meiselas has been questioning documentary practice. Covering many subjects and themes, from war to human rights issues and from cultural identity to the sex industry, she has been exploring and developing narratives integrating the participation of her subjects in her works.

Constantly questioning the photographic process and her role as a witness, she has developed a unique, personal approach that tackles a broad variety of themes, but from an alternate perspective.

A comprehensive retrospective of this acclaimed photographer’s work will soon go on view at Jeu de Paume. Bringing together a selection of works from the 1970s to the present day, the exhibition will highlight the breadth of Meiselas’s documentary practice.

Sandinistas at the walls of the Esteli National Guard headquarters
Susan Meiselas – Sandinistas at the walls of the Esteli National Guard headquarters: “Molotv Man” Estelí, Nicaragua, July 16th 1979 © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

A Prolific Photographic Journey

A member of Magnum Photos since 1976, Susan Meiselas has been moving through time and conflict, covering many subjects and countries. She rose to prominence through her work in conflict zones of Central America during the 1970s and 80s, especially due to the strength of her color photographs.

Her earlier works focused on the every-day struggles of stripers in New England, before she started producing multi-layered photographic narratives about individual and societies across the United States and the world.

Three important series created between the late 1970s and 2000s – Nicaragua, El Salvador and Kurdistan, represent the center of the exhibition. Setting s goal of exploring the boundaries and potentials of images, she addressed each conflict in a different way according to the context.

Debbie and Renee, Rockland, Maine, 1972. From the series Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975
Susan Meiselas – Debbie and Renee, Rockland, Maine, 1972. From the series Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975 © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

Highlights of the Show

The highlights of the exhibition include the Nicaragua series from the late 1970s, covering the Sandinista Popular Revolution, Nicaragua – Mediations created between 1978 and 1982, revealing how the meaning of images changes according to the context of their diffusion, and Kurdistan created between 1991 and 2007, bringing together a magnificent photographic history of the Kurdish people and their struggle for independence and survival over the past 125 years. Some of these early works have rarely been exhibited.

Especially for the retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, Meiselas has created a new work that began in 2015. Titled A Room of Their Own, the work focuses on domestic violence and was created collaboratively in a refuge for women.

The installation comprises five narrative video works, featuring artist’s photographs, first-hand testimonies, collages and drawings.

Everyone travelling by car, truck, bus or foot is searched, Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, 1978
Susan Meiselas – Everyone travelling by car, truck, bus or foot is searched, Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, 1978 © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

Susan Meiselas Exhibition at Jeu de Paume

The exhibition Susan Meiselas: Mediations will be on view at Jeu de Paume in Paris from February 6th until May 20th, 2018.

Retracing Meiselas’ trajectory since the 1970s as a visual artist who associates her subjects to her approach and questions the status of images in relation to the context in which they are perceived, the exhibition will be the most comprehensive retrospective of her work ever held in France.

The exhibition will afterward go on tour to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art where it will be on view from July 21st until October 21st, 2018.

Featured image: Susan Meiselas – Debbie and Renee, Rockland, Maine, 1972 (detail). From the series Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975 © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos. All images courtesy of Jeu de Paume.