Susan Meiselas

I recently came back from London and my head is still full of images shot by documentary photographer Susan Meiselas.

SM-490.jpgSusan Meiselas, Mistress Catherine after the Whipping I, The Versailles Room, Pandora’s Box, 1995

It started at The Wapping Project Bankside and ended a few meters away, at Tate Modern. Both showed strikingly different facets of her portfolio.

Susan_Meiselas_Pandoras_Box_Security_TV_IV_New_York_City_1995_2459_41.jpgSusan Meiselas, Securtiy TV IV, Pandora’s Box, 1995

Susan_Meiselas_Pandoras_Box_Awaiting_Mistress_Natasha_The_Versail_2473_41.jpgSusan Meiselas, Awaiting Mistress Natasha, Pandora’s Box, The Versailles Room, New York City, 1995

The independent gallery shows a selection from Meiselas’s 2001 book ‘Pandora’s Box,’ in which the photographer documented the rules and rituals of one of New York’s most exclusive sex clubs.

Run by a dominatrix called Mistress Raven, the club offers “vacations from reality,” skillful and imaginative mistresses, complete discretion and a contract that precise that the one thing that clients are not about to get is sexual intercourse. The SM experience is about fulfilling phantasies, not actual copulation.

Susan_Meiselas_Pandoras_Box_Asphyxiation_by_boot_The_Versailles_R_2478_41.jpgSusan Meiselas, Asphyxiation by boot, Pandora’s Box, The Versailles Room, New York City, 1995

Susan_Meiselas_Asphyxiation_by_Mistress_Beatrice_I_The_Medical_Ro_863_67.jpgSusan Meiselas, Asphyxiation by Mistress Beatrice I, The Medical Room, Pandora’s Box, 1995

This project explores the psychological and physical depths of a form of self expression highly tabooed and segregated within mainstream American society. Pandora’s Box provides people with the opportunity to explore sides of their personalities that public and private lives do not permit them to admit.


Extracts of interviews with the mistresses appeared here and there between the photos on the gallery walls. One of the women is married to a famous artist, she also having a long term relationship with a couple of slaves. Another woman explains that some clients come with pages and pages of their own pre-written scenarios. A third said that sometimes she becomes friend with her clients although they’d only see each other in the Mistress context.

Meis566.jpgSusan Meiselas, Mistress Catherine’s Chariot, Pandora’s Box, 1995

More images: Amador Gallery and Stephen Daiter gallery.

The Wapping Project Bankside show coincided with the photographer’s inclusion in Tate Modern’s Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera . Maybe i’ll write about Exposed over the Summer. Maybe i won’t, you don’t need me to be informed about Tate Modern’s programme, right?

Tate had a few works from Meiselas’ Carnival Strippers, a series she did in the early ’70s to document the world of carnival girl shows country fairs around New England. For four summers she photographed and interviewed strippers, managers, talkers and audience members (check out the photos at Rose Gallery.)

Meiselas was 26 when she joined Magnum. One of the few women at the agency, she is probably better known for her work covering political upheavals in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s than for her coverage of the sex scene in the US.

The Tate exhibition was also showing shots she took during the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. It’s the most disturbing photo i’ve seen this year.

0ijrfcarauga.jpgSusan Meiselas, “Cuesta del Plomo”, a well-known site of many assassinations carried out by the National Guard, where people searched daily for missing persons, Managua, Nicaragua, from the series Nicaragua, 1981

The Nicaragua series starts with the final moments of the Somoza dictatorship in the late 1970s. It follows the popular resistance that led to the insurrection and to the Sandinista revolution. One of the key steps in the development of the Cold War, the revolution overthrew the Somoza regime and established a revolutionary government in its place.

I didn’t plan to write this post but that one image above is haunting me, maybe a post about the amazing photos i saw in London will help me get it out of my mind.

Susan Meiselas’ exhibition at The Wapping Project Bankside is, alas! already over but Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera is open until October 3 at Tate Modern.