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Matinee: 'Martha Rosler on Susan Meiselas' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

21 July 2018

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 159th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Martha Rosler on Susan Meiselas.

In this clip from the Human Interest series published by the Whitney Museum of American Art, artist Martha Rosler talks about Susan Meiselas's multi-year project Carnival Strippers from the 1970s.

Susan Meiselas: Mediations, a retrospective, is currently showing at SFMOMA through Oct. 21. We took a quick tour through the show yesterday and can report it's a powerful experience. In addition to the Magnum photographer's work in Central America, her investigation into the Kurdish genocide and her series on physical abuse, the exhibit reveals a working method that combines photography, video, sound and installation to tell the story.

Meiselas herself said this about her early work Carnival Strippers:

From 1972 to 1975, I spent my summers photographing and interviewing women who performed striptease for small town carnivals in New England, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. As I followed the girl shows from town to town, I photographed the dancers' public performances as well as their private lives. I also taped interviews with the dancers, their boyfriends, the show managers and paying customers.

Rosler's perspective on Carnival Strippers doesn't blink. It's a difficult subject, she admits, made no easier by the demands of documentary photography.

"I thought it was extraordinarily difficult to produce a work that was about women whom she didn't know, who were in an under-appreciated, unloved class of women, who were certainly not admired for their professions at a time women were exploring what it meant to have a body and to have a profession and to have a job," Rosler points out.

Rosler compares the approach Meiselas takes to that she took in her collage of Pat Nixon, the former first lady. Nixon is photographed in a formal portrait standing in front of a framed picture above the mantel in which Rosler put and image of the shot-up body of Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde. It's a symbolic cultural product that represents "the feeling of being hunted and being unreconciled to the discourses of power."

She sees Meiselas's project as a way of fully realizing the humanity of her powerless subjects without "glorifying what they do to make a living."

A rare example, perhaps, of two dimensions having more depth than three. Which Meiselas has continued to achieve throughout her career.


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