Susan Meiselas

Girlhood

The transition from childhood to adulthood has always been characterized by curiosity, a strong desire for freedom, the search for identity and the tendency to question one's own appearance, often as part of and together with a group of friends of the same age. Back in the 1970s, this process – and life in general for adolescents – was dominated to a far lesser extent by consumption, mobile communication and constant parental supervision. Kids usually met up spontaneously, hung out together locally and went home when it was dark or time for dinner. This is how life was for the "Prince Street Girls", as Susan Meiselas called a group of girls in her New York neighborhood after the street they lived on. Meiselas had just finished her degree in visual education when she moved into her apartment on nearby Mott Street in Little Italy in 1975. Many of the residents of the neighborhood at that time were in fact still Italian-born. Across the road from her apartment block was St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, a meeting place for the community with a Catholic school attached to it.

She regularly encountered the girls, many of whom were related, as they roamed through the neighborhood. Over time, mutual curiosity turned into friendship. The girls visited Meiselas in her loft when she was not away traveling. Meiselas listened to their stories and accompanied them on their forays through the surrounding streets or on their trips to the beach. With her camera, she captured the girls' lives, observing the changing constellations in the group, their first attempts at putting on make-up, the different fashions and their budding interest in boys. Although the girls were always aware that they were being photographed, they did not seem annoyed or intimidated by the gaze of this familiar stranger. As a result, Meiselas managed to create a highly personal, dynamic and authentic series of portraits in "Prince Street Girls" that reflects the everyday, easy atmosphere during their encounters. Her photographs reveal the adventure of growing up along with the associated changes as well as of an innocence in dealing with photography that has now disappeared.

When Meiselas, who had become a member of the Magnum photography agency in 1976, left New York at the end of the 1970s for Central America to document the conflicts there, her encounters with the group became increasingly infrequent, though she sometimes returned in time for a wedding or birthday party. Nevertheless, she has remained friends with Jojo, Dee, Lisa, Carol, Pina, Roe and Pebbles to this day, even though the girls, who have long since grown up, have left the neighborhood and moved to Brooklyn, Staten Island or New Jersey. Susan Meiselas still lives in the same apartment. She is often invited to their family celebrations and continues to take photographs at some of these reunions.

Biographical information

1948

born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA

1970-1971

Bachelor of Arts, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, USA, and Master of Education in Visual Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

1976

becomes a member of Magnum Photos

lives in New York City