Susan Meiselas: Carnival Strippers Revisited

Paris — Magnum Photos is honored to exhibit Susan Meiselas: Carnival Strippers Revisited from 18 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.

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. This is the new and expanded edition of Susan Meiselas’ 1976 book Carnival Strippers, arguably one of the most important photographic projects of the second half of the twentieth century. From 1972 to 1975, Meiselas spent her summers photographing women who performed striptease for small-town carnivals in New England, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. As she followed the shows from town to town, she captured the dancers on stage and off, their public performances as well as private lives, creating a portrait both documentary and empathetic: “The recognition of this world is not the invention of it. I wanted to present an account of the girl show that portrayed what I saw and revealed how the people involved felt about what they were doing.” Meiselas also taped candid interviews with the dancers, their boyfriends, the show managers and paying customers, which form a crucial part of the book.

Meiselas’ frank description of these women brought a hidden world to public attention, and explored the complex role the carnival played in their lives: mobility, money and liberation, but also undeniable objectification and exploitation. Produced during the early years of the women’s movement, Carnival Strippers reflects the struggle for identity and self-esteem that characterized a complex era of change. Featuring largely unpublished additional photos, contact sheets, maps and letters, Carnival Strippers Revisited gives new depth to Meiselas’ influential vision.
Carnival Strippers Revisited and Making Of come together in a slipcase. Making Of includes Carnival Strippers color images that have never been printed and/or published before, along with ephemera material collected by Meiselas at the time she developed the project.

About the Author

Susan Meiselas is a documentary photographer based in New York. She is the author of Carnival Strippers (1976), Nicaragua (1981), Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (1997), Pandora’s Box (2001), Encounters with the Dani (2003) Prince Street Girls (2016), A Room Of Their Own (2017) and Tar Beach (2020).

A portrait of Susan Meiselas

Meiselas is well known for her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America. Her photographs are included in North American and international collections. In 1992 she was made a MacArthur Fellow, received a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), and most recently the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize (2019) and the first Women in Motion Award from Kering and the Rencontres d’Arles. Mediations, a survey exhibition of her work from the 1970s to the present was recently exhibited at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Jeu de Paume, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Instituto Moreira Salles in São Paulo and is presently on view at the Kunst Haus Wien.
She has been the President of the Magnum Foundation since 2007, with a mission to expand diversity and creativity in documentary photography.

Susan Meiselas: Carnival Strippers Revisited
18.02.22 – 30.04.22
Magnum Gallery, Paris

Hardcover, clothbound in slipcase: 304 pages, 205 images
Publisher: Steidl (2022)
Language: English
Size: 10.8 x 9.25 inches
ISBN-13: 978-3969990025

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