Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Susan Meiselas: Capturing real human nature

 Susan Meiselas’s decision to pursue photography has taken her around the world. From Nicaragua, El Salvador, small towns and even South Bronx Mieselas had focused on capturing the horror of war ravaged and impoverished nations. In her series “Carnival Strippers” she focused on following the itinerary of carnival strippers. She took pictures not only of their performances but their own personal moments when they stopped being entertainers on stage and started being human.

Meiselas’s ability to capture this gritty realism and humanity in her subjects had earned her accolades. She is the winner of 2000 Cornell Capa Infinity Award for for distinguished achievement in photography. Her work has solo exhibits at the International Center for Photography and even shown in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. Susan Meiselas’s career as a photographer is distinctly successful and eventful.

Many of Meiselas’s prints caught my eye but there were two black and white shots that stood on their own and engaged my attention

In Prep at Mass Shelter 1979, Susan Meiselas captures a not so festive holiday scene from Volunteers of America. Two elderly people in the background are framed in the window frames. An old man sits listlessly on a chair and watches as lady in a tweed suit adjusts a white Santa Claus wig on a patiently resigned young man. In the background a tinsel decked tree adds to the supposedly festive spirit of the photo and occupies two thirds of the picture. Meiselas successfully captures a Santa Claus in the making and addresses the fabrication of many beloved holiday traditions.

In Prince Street Girls she captures Pebbles, JoJo and Ro on Baxter Street in 1979 New York City. These young girls are all positioned in attitudes that reflect their nonchalance and naïveté. Ro is lighting a cigarette for JoJo. They are all sporting classic 1978 year jean jackets, bellbottoms and print collar shirts tightly starched. Their fly away hair gives them a rushed and inconsistent air. The black and white tones of the photo give them a mature and older look. The clothes they were wearing were probably bright and their faces as well but the black and white give them a more somber mood. Pebbles leans on the front grill of the Cadillac her chin jutted out and tilted ever so slightly to the left. To the passing stranger these girls would have been passed by Meiselas captures their rebel spirit and defiance.

Meiselas may have been known better for her coverage of political and war related subjects but her lens reveals the frankness of her human subjects and he strength lies in that honest portrayal of them.