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Photographer Susan Meiselas & The Female Gaze

Photographer Susan Meiselas & The Female Gaze

“Pioneering photographer Susan Meiselas speaks to Vogue about her new exhibition at Rencontres d’Arles, reporting from the frontline of conflict zones and her enduring fascination with unretouched women”


Debbie and Renee from  Carnival Stripper   © Susan Meiselas

Debbie and Renee from Carnival Stripper

© Susan Meiselas

In the mid-1970s, the women’s liberation movement was building up, the Senate finally passed the Equal Rights Amendment Act, and photographers like Eve Arnold, Abigail Heyman, and Susan Meiselas were publishing books highlighting unretouched women. There’s a common thread between their work - “We are just candidly looking at women from these different perspectives.”

In a society where we’re often surrounded by imagery, it is important to note that the majority is still created by male photographers. For that reason, photographers like Arnold, Heyman, and Meiselas need to be recognized and celebrated for their work that puts women “to the test of the photographic image, avoiding stereotypes to draw alternate representations.” The three books that they published - The Unretouched Woman, Growing Up Female: A Personal Photo-Journal, and Carnival Strippers respectively - are the subject of the exhibition on view during the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival.

Returning home  from the Nicaragua series, September, 1978  © Susan Meiselas

Returning home from the Nicaragua series, September, 1978

© Susan Meiselas

While Meiselas was shooting still on set of films, she encountered a new experience - where the actress wanted her pictures retouched. On the topic of retouching, Meiselas states: “I don’t retouch myself, but I find the whole process fascinating—when women decide to do it and when they don’t, and of course they should have the right to, or not to. Unfortunately culture directs the way women think they should look, and perfect bodies are the only ones that are represented,” she says, concluding: “We’re learning about how this representation can harm women. It’s terribly important to be considerate.”

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