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Jeu de Paume opens retrospective of the work of American photographer Susan Meiselas
Susan Meiselas, Lena juchée sur sa caisse, Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973.Série Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975. © Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos.

PARIS.- The retrospective devoted to the American photographer Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) brings together a selection of works from the 1970s to the present day. A member of Magnum Photos since 1976, Susan Meiselas questions documentary practice. She became known through her work in conflict zones of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s in particular due to the strength of her colour photographs. Covering many subjects and countries, from war to human rights issues and from cultural identity to the sex industry, Meiselas uses photography, film, video and sometimes archive material, as she relentlessly explores and develops narratives integrating the participation of her subjects in her works. The exhibition highlights Susan Meiselas’s unique personal as well as geopolitical approach, showing how she moves through time and conflict and how she constantly questions the photographic process and her role as witness.

Her early works already illustrate her interest for documentary photography. Her very first project, 44 Irving Street (1971), was a series of black and white portraits. Here, she used her camera as a means of interacting with the other tenants of the boarding house where she lived during her time as a student. For Carnival Strippers (1972-1975), Meiselas followed strippers working in carnivals in New England over the course of three consecutive summers. The reportage is completed with audio recordings of the women, their clients and managers.

From this period originates also Prince Street Girls (1975-1992), which was shot in the district known as Little Italy, in New York, where Susan Meiselas still lives. She photographed a group of young girls over several years, capturing the changes that took place in their lives as they were growing up, constituting a chronicle of the evolving relationship between the young girls and the photographer.

Three important series represent the center of the exhibition: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Kurdistan. Made between the late 1970s and 2000, the works reveal the way in which the artist challenges and practises photography. During the course of her extensive travels in Latin America, over a number of decades, in times of war and peace, Meiselas returns to the sites where she took the original photographs, using the images to find the people she had met in order to pursue a record of their testimonies. With her project Mediations (1982), Susan Meiselas reveals how the meaning of images changes according to the context of their diffusion. Her novel approach is almost prophetic in a world where the diffusion of the image is facilitated by technology.

As from 1997, Meiselas addresses each conflict in a different way according to the context. Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (1997) is an archive of the visual history of a people without a nation. Meiselas, who gathered those elements all around the world in collaboration with Kurdish people, constructed her work as an installation composed of a compilation of documents, photographs and videos.

In 1992, Meiselas, asked to contribute to an awareness campaign exposing domestic violence, began by photographing crime scenes, accompanying a team of police investigators, and then selected a number of documents with photographs from the archives of the San Francisco Police Department. This research led her to create Archives of Abuse, collages of police reports and photographs, exhibited in the city’s public spaces as posters on bus shelters.

For the retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, Susan Meiselas has created a new work, begun in 2015, based on her involvement with Multistory, a regional arts organization based in the United Kingdom. This last series A Room of Their Own was made collaboratively in a refuge for women and focuses on domestic violence. The installation includes five narrative video works, featuring Meiselas’s photographs, first-hand testimonies, collages and drawings.

The exhibition of the Jeu de Paume is the most comprehensive retrospective of her work ever held in France. It retraces her 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.

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