Magnum Photos is honored to exhibit Susan Meiselas: Carnival Strippers Revisited from 17 February to 30 April 2022 in the newly-opened gallery located at 68 Rue Léon Frot, in Paris. Carnival Strippers Revisited will present for the first time Meiselas’ early color photographs taken in the 1970s alongside her iconic black and white series.
Tent Entrance for Star and Garter, Essex Junction, Vermont, 1974
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos
The summer of 1972 launched Meiselas’ life as a photographer. When she arrived in Bangor, Maine, Meiselas encountered two large tents advertising “men-only” girl shows. As a woman, she was barred from entering, which intensified her curiosity. This exclusion inspired her to meet, photograph and share the stories of the carnival strippers as she followed them for the next four summers. Meiselas traveled with the ‘girl shows’ to 15 locations across the USA, documenting their working lives. This sustained personal engagement resulted in an immersive body of work exploring themes of intimacy, vulnerability, gender politics and sexuality.
“Over the years, I had forgotten my first chance encounter with a stripper in the carnival bathroom in 1972. Meeting that dark-haired woman led to a journey of many returns. It compelled me to meet and speak to the women who participated in the girl shows,” Meiselas commented in 2021. “What I saw from inside was that the girls pictured themselves differently. Stripping was an opportunity for many of them. I felt a tension between how they perceived themselves and how society was looking at them—not just the men but the women’s liberation movement.”
Against the backdrop of the emerging women’s rights movement, Carnival Strippers became a seminal visual reference in conversations around gender politics and sexual expression. For Meiselas to bring the hidden world of carnival stripping to public attention was provocative.
Highlights in the exhibition include original photographic ‘work’ prints and other archival materials from the 1970s, including interviews by the photographer with the women she came to know.
Samantha McCoy, Gallery Director said: “In an era where women’s rights can never be taken for granted, this incredible body of work acts as a metaphor for the strength and fragility of women around the world. These remarkable images epitomize the societal tensions women face every day. This body of work remains a tour de force.”
The show coincides with the release of the third edition of the book Carnival Strippers, including an accompanying book titled, Making Of. The two are published together by Steidl as Carnival Strippers Revisited, a remarkable title that features never-before seen color images, handwritten field notes, transcriptions of audio recordings and other archival materials.
Susan Meiselas received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and her M.A. in visual education from Harvard University. Meiselas joined Magnum Photos in 1976 and has worked as a freelance photographer since then. She is best known for her coverage of the insurrection in Nicaragua and her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America, which were published widely throughout the world. In 1981, Pantheon published her second monograph, Nicaragua: June 1978 – July 1979 which was reprinted by Aperture, fall 2008.
Meiselas served as an editor and contributor to the book El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers (Writers & Readers, 1983) and edited Chile from within (W.W. Norton, 1991) featuring work by photographers living under the Pinochet regime. She has co-directed two films: Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family (1986) and Pictures from a Revolution (1991) with Richard P. Rogers and Alfred Guzzetti. In 1997, she completed a six-year project curating a 100-year photographic history of Kurdistan and integrating her own work into the book entitled Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (Random House, 1997; reprinted by the University of Chicago Press, 2008). Meiselas then created the website, www.akaKURDISTAN.com, an online archive of collective memory; as well as an exhibition that launched at the Menil Collection in Houston, and traveled for eight years to several venues in the United States and Europe.
Her 2001 monograph, Pandora’s Box (Magnum Editions/Trebruk) which explores a New York S&M club, has been exhibited both at home and abroad. Her more recent book, A Room of Their Own, was based on a collaborative project with domestic violence survivors in a UK refuge (multistory, 2017).
Meiselas has had one-woman exhibitions in Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Her work is included in American and international collections including MoMA, the Getty Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, among others. Honorary awards of recognition include: the Robert Capa Gold Medal for “outstanding courage and reporting” by the Overseas Press Club for her work in Nicaragua (1979); the Leica Award for Excellence (1982); the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University for her coverage of Latin America (1994); the Hasselblad Foundation Photography prize (1994); Guggenheim Fellowship (2015); the Rencontres d’Arles First Prize Women in Motion Award and Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize (2019). In 1992, she was named a MacArthur Fellow.
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