Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum

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Susan Meiselas. Tentful of Marks, Tunbridge, Vermont. 1974

Gelatin silver print, printed c. 2000, 7 11/16 × 11 3/4" (19.5 × 29.9 cm). Acquired through the generosity of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. © 2024 Susan Meiselas

Artist, Susan Meiselas: My name is Susan Meiselas. I'm a photographer based in New York.

Carnival Strippers is my first real body of work. The idea of projecting a self to attract a male gaze was completely counter to my sense of culture, what I wanted for myself. So I was fascinated by women who were choosing to do that. I just felt, magnetically, I need to know more.

The feminists of that period were perceiving the girl shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down. I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard. They should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.

Getting to know the women was very much one by one, obviously I'm in the public fairgrounds making this photograph so there are many other people surrounding me. There weren't many other cameras. I mean, if we were making this picture today, it's interesting the differences of how many people would have been with cameras, iPhones, etc. So I don't think she's performing for me. She's performing for the public.

The girl show moves around from town to town. My working process was to be somewhere on a weekend, go back to Boston, which at the time was my base, and process the work and bring back the contact sheets and show whoever was there the following weekend, what the pictures were. And they left little initials saying, I like this one, I don't like that one.

This negotiated or collaborative space with photography really still fascinates me. It's a kind of offering, it's a moment in which someone says, I want you to be here with us. The challenge of making that moment, creating that moment, that's what still intrigues me, I think, and keeps me engaged with photography.