Collaborative Portraiture brings together work by Magnum
photographers Carolyn Drake, Bieke Depoorter and Susan Meiselas to present different creative strategies to portray female subjects. In each series on display, the sitters have been invited to present themselves on their own terms, to perform, play and control their representation in front of the lens.
Portraiture has always played an important role within Magnums documentary photography and its members have continually investigated and rethought the process of photographic storytelling. One component within this being to democratise the act of photographing, shifting the emphasis from taking photographs of their subject, to a collaborative exchange that incorporates multiple points of view. At a time when female representation has become increasingly politicised, this exhibition takes three bodies of work, one historical and two contemporary, where portraiture becomes a process, through long-term commitment to a subject and reassessment of the image through time.
Carolyn Drakes project, Internat takes its name from the still-operating, Soviet-era orphanage in which her subjects live. Taking control over the lives of young females marked with disabilities for a variety of reasons, the Internat institution, guided by a male Director, carries the girls into adulthood in isolation. Drake first met and photographed her subjects when living in the region and when returning in 2014, she found many of them still resident and now adult. This body of work was conceived to give her subjects their own voice, presenting playful and gently surrealist images, that imagine an alternative feminine world, and in so doing subverting the real constraints of their daily routines as Drake explains We played at picture-making, using their bodies and objects found around the building as content, and using this environment as a stage for imagining something beyond it Here, Drake has devised a curation that seeks to bring out the intimacy of these encounters.
Bieke Depoorter met Agata, in the context of an experimental residency project, the Magnum Live Lab, in Paris in November 2017. Photographer and muse quickly struck up a photographic partnership and this ongoing project has taken shape over a series of journeys, to Greece and Lebanon. As the project has unfolded, the filmic nature of the work has become more clear and is referenced here in the linear narratives of working prints sitting alongside four framed works. Through her travels with Agata, Depoorter seeks to get to the heart of who her charismatic subject - a woman used to performing for men, for the photographer and her camera - actually is.
Between 1972 and 1975, Susan Meiselas spent her summers photographing and interviewing women who performed striptease for small town carnivals in New England, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Carnival Strippers (1972-1975) is one of Meiselass earliest and most well-known bodies of work, and was conceived from the outset as a multi-media project including the voices of her subjects alongside the bally calls and language at the fairs. The documentary records three worlds, out front of and inside the tent and behind the scenes. This exhibition focuses on a smaller group of square format portraits in which her subjects to present themselves as they would like to be photographed. These are presented alongside correspondence included with the work in her touring retrospective exhibition Mediations, currently exhibiting at SFMOMA.