A new exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum highlights the four decades of work of documentary photographer Susan Meiselas, and is the first to focus on the artist’s long-standing commitment to working with and sharing the stories of women. Opened virtually from December 4, 2020, Susan Meiselas: Through a Woman’s Lens presents never-before-shown photographs alongside iconic series that raise challenging questions about the documentary practice and the relationship between photographer and subject.
“Susan Meiselas’s collaborative practice honors the people she photographs and those that view her pictures,” said Lisa Sutcliffe, Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts. “By intuitively following her own instincts over the course of her career, Meiselas has built a unique body of work that examines the many lives and stories of women that might have otherwise been overlooked. Her inclusive process brings a diverse array of voices to bear on issues from human rights to civil conflict, and encourages us to become more responsible in how we consume and interpret images.”
Throughout her nearly fifty-year career, Meiselas has consistently focused her lens on what she believes the wider public needs to see, including women living and working at the edges of the mainstream. Her subjects have ranged from carnival strippers at county fairs to women engaged in resistance in Central America. Collaboration is an integral part of the artist’s practice, and she works closely with her subjects to bring their voices to the issues they face, often returning to communities she has photographed to reconnect and examine how their perspectives have changed over time. This collaborative spirit was extended in 2020 through the creation of an expansive virtual tour, which allows visitors near and far to hear from not only the curator and the artist but also the people in her photographs and her many partners.
The exhibition features selections from the artist’s earliest series, including 44 Irving Street, Prince Street Girls, and Carnival Strippers; vivid color photographs that Meiselas made during the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua; and never-before-shown pictures of women training in the U.S. Army, as well as an examination of the experience of a Filippino mail-order bride.
Through a Woman’s Lens will also debut photographs that Meiselas took at the Democratic National Convention in 1976, which examined the role of women in the party. This exhibition marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the women’s right to vote.
“I am excited to have this opportunity to share some of my lesser-known work from the 1970s and reflect on how my practice has evolved,” said Meiselas. “I was part of the generation following the Women’s Movement and benefited from what others had fought hard for. I felt I could explore as broadly as I could imagine and challenge myself to go beyond boundaries and have these experiences shape my thinking and my life. ”
Since 1976, Meiselas has been a member of the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photo. The cooperative is composed of some of the world’s most renowned photographers, who “share a vision to chronicle world events, people, places and culture with a powerful narrative that defies convention, shatters the status quo, redefines history and transforms lives.”
In 2019, Meiselas received the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize Prize for her survey show Mediations, which was organized with the Jeu de Paume in Paris and later traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She was also the first winner of the Women in Motion photography prize at the Recontres d’Arles festival. She has received numerous additional awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 1992.
Susan Meiselas: Through a Woman’s Lens is curated by Lisa J. Sutcliffe, Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts, Milwaukee Art Museum. The exhibition runs December 4, 2020 to March 14, 2021.
Due to the Milwaukee Public Health Order 4.2, issued owing to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the community, the Museum has temporarily closed to the public through at least January 2, 2021.