“It’s getting near show time!” the voice would boom out over the cheers of the punters. Susan Meiselas would hover at first near the back of the tent. “Don’t be shy, take your hands out of your pockets, take your money out of your wallets. Rest your elbows on the stage and look up into the whole, the whole goddamn show. Show time! Where they strip to please, not to tease!” Susan Meiselas was 24 when she started Carnival Strippers. It was the summer of 1972, and her photography experience was limited to portraits of her housemates in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She had just completed an MA from Harvard, yet she still was shy and unsure of herself – very unlike the direct intellect of today, who treats Magnum’s offices like second homes.
Susan Meiselas has been a pivotal figure in photography since her career began in the 1970s, a decade when the ethical discussion surrounding the inspiration, intent and dissemination of documentary image-making was rampant. Perpetually questioning the motivation and perception of her images, the American has spent her life grappling with these issues, practising what it means to document something outside of her own personal experience. This spring (06 February to 20 May), Jeu de Paume in Paris presents Mediations, a retrospective revisiting her vast oeuvre, beginning with early portraits that include 44 Irving Street (1971) and Carnival Strippers (1972-75).