The Kunst Haus Wien continues its 2021 focus on female photographers with a solo retrospective. Mediations highlights the work of New York-based Susan Meiselas: stalwart of Magnum Photos and a giant of documentary photography.
- Features numerous photo projects and series across 5 decades
- Includes her famous work during the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua
- Runs Sept 16, 2021 – Feb 13, 2022
- See also: Kunst Haus Wien visitor & ticket info
(Susan Meiselas; Dee and Lisa on Mott Street. Little Italy, New York City, USA, 1976; © Susan Meiselas / Magnum Photos)
Visit Susan Meiselas’s website and two words describe what you see on the opening page: people and stories. Which makes sense, since those two topics run like a thread through the US photographer’s work across the decades.
Those stories cover a wide spectrum that starts with explorations of cultural identity. The Prince Street Girls series, for example, follows the lives of young girls in New York’s Little Italy as they pass through childhood and emerge into womanhood.
The spectrum continues through to numerous works documenting significant social and political issues and events.
Meiselas’s photography has thrown a light on human rights in South America, on the plight of migrants in North America, on the fate of the Kurds in the Gulf region, on victims of domestic violence in the USA and the post-industrial British midlands, and much more.
The photos from Nicaragua, for example, offered era-defining coverage of the Sandinista revolution, with Meiselas’s Molotov Man finding its own afterlife as a revolutionary and historical symbol. Time rated it among the Top 100 most influential images of all time.
The Mediations exhibition offers the chance to walk along that spectrum through a full retrospective that begins in the 1970s with 44 Irving St, a course project by Meiselas when a masters student at Harvard.
That series combines portraits of neighbours with their own words, already hinting at the combination of subject and context that would come to define Meiselas’s outstanding career and output. As she once put it herself in Aperture Magazine:
We know photographers make frames, but we deeply believe they can also create frameworks.
Listening to Meiselas discuss her work on a tour of the exhibition, I was struck by her extraordinary empathy. The actual photo is just one part of the photographic process and one element in her interest.
Rather than take snapshots of a time, place and people, Meiselas builds relationships with her subjects, draws in their opinions and feedback, protects their agency, explores the surrounding context, pursues projects across many years, and observes the afterlife of images with an analytical eye.
As such, the exhibition does not simply present a succession of photo series, but a group of photo-centered installations created by Meiselas and curator Verena Kaspar.
The section devoted to her Kurdistan work, for example, draws in video reports, documentation, stories, and photos from other sources through time, thereby providing a broad, empathetic, and historical context for Meiselas’s own work.
This is the first exhibition of Meiselas’s photos in Austria, so a golden opportunity to view the output of one of the world’s most impactful documentary photographers. A similar exhibition at the Jeu de Paume in Paris saw Meiselas receive the 2019 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize for her…
…remarkable contribution to socially engaged photography, which is characterised by her personal commitment and particularly reflected in her documentation of individual and historical events
Tickets & dates
Enjoy viewing Susan Meiselas’s remarkable documentary photo projects from September 16th, 2021 to February 13th, 2022. Photo labels are in German and English. Look out for folders with English translations of the wall texts.
The Kunst Haus Wien’s photo exhibitions require their own ticket (€9 at the time of writing), but a joint ticket* with the Hundertwasser Museum in the same building costs just €3 more and is well worth it.
Vienna has various other photo exhibitions that overlap in part with the dates of Mediations.
Consider for example, the Jewish Museum’s look at the Soviet war photographer, Yevgeny Khaldei. Or two exhibitions at the Albertina: one highlighting the work of numerous other famous post-WWII US photographers, the other with artist portraits by Franz Hubmann. The Leopold Museum even has an exhibition exploring Ludwig Wittgenstein’s use for a camera (from November 12th).
How to get to the exhibition
Just follow the tips at the bottom of the Kunst Haus Wien page.
Address: Untere Weißgerberstraße 13, 1030 Vienna