You may have caught a glimpse of Susan Meiselas’ Prince Street Girls at the 2017 edition of New York City’s premiere international photography fair, AIPAD. However, if you did not, the work’s second coming is now on view in its first solo presentation at the Upper East Side gallery, Higher Pictures. The black and white documentary photo series started with what Meiselas’ calls, “incidental encounters”, with a group of Italian-American girls in New York City’s Little Italy. Between the years of 1976 and 1979, Meiselas’ friendship and photographs of the girls evolved into an immaculate body of work, capturing a particular moment in time in a small corner of a vast metropolis.
In the late 1970s, Meiselas was living in a loft in Little Italy. The girls, most of whom were related to each other, took to a stranger in their midst and allowed Meiselas’ to capture incredibly striking images of their girlhood. The images have become iconic and offer a stunning vision of the chemistry of female gazes between a photographer and her subjects.
The presentation of the work on view, including its framing and printing, is exquisite. The images rendered in lush shades of gray do not rely on high contrast for their power. This aesthetic choice amplifies the nuanced physicality and sensuality of young female bodies and imbues them with an emotional depth, agency and empowered self-awareness. The interrelationships of the girls, ranging from playful and natural to bold, fill up the frame of each image while backdrops, including streetscapes, subway cars, buildings, peeling paint, and the beach, set the scene for their daily adventures.
Meiselas’ spontaneous, and what appears to be relatively egalitarian, interaction with the girls is revealed in the diversity of her documentary style portraits – posed images, amateur modeling and spontaneous capture are equally present in the body of work. Something familiar yet different can be felt in Meiselas’ 1970s documentation of teenage life. The flirting with beauty and badness is present, however the privacy of pre-internet amusement, exploration, and experimentation offers a stark contrast to 21st century self-consciousness.
One thing that is unquestionable is Meiselas’ ability to eliminate any sense of awkwardness typical to adolescence. Instead, she offers a positive vision and affirmation of girlhood unfolding on the outskirts of an adult world.
Susan Meiselas, Prince Street Girls, 1976-1979 is on view through June 17, 2017.