The Cohen Amador Gallery is pleased to announce the exhibition “Pandora’s Box,” color photographs by internationally renowned, award-winning photographer Susan Meiselas. The images, featuring a New York S & M club, are from her 2001 book of the same title. Through this series Meiselas portrays the sadomasochistic experience, in this Disneyland of domination, as beautiful, unnerving, and ultimately, self-reflexive.
The rich diversity of Meiselas’ imagery immediately infuses her project with a cinematic quality that ensnares the viewer in a world of fantasy. Windowless, draped in velvety blues and lascivious reds, white surgical tile and, of course, leather, Meiselas’ camera captures a self-enclosed world of probing visual seduction, an approach which effectively drives the viewer’s desire. The contrast between images depicting individuals engaged in socially repressed activities such as punishment, whipping and humiliation, and more relaxed imagery of dominatrixes smoking and preparing for the encounter, directs the viewer to perceive Meiselas’ subjects as multifarious personalities. One becomes acutely aware of the dichotomy in the relationship between the looker-
the viewer-and the looked at—those depicted in the photographs. This relay awakens us to the casual sadism of vision, and illustrates much more than the workings of an S & M club. Rather, it demonstrates several levels of objectification: the objectification of the masochist by the dominatrix, and the reverse, as well as the objectification of both by the viewer, who stands safely distanced from the implied sexual act.
This relationship is itself directly referenced in an image featuring a client watching a TV screen. His identity remains obscure to us, blocked by the room’s door through which we are forced to peer. Legs and a single hand are visible and reveal two important signifiers of this person’s identity: his masculine attire-
what we presume to be a suit-and a white, limp, hand. Though we do not learn who this individual is, he exists as an allegory of the white male gaze, a subject which has preoccupied photographers and artists for decades, but is so rarely illustrated with such visual and conceptual clarity and tenacity. As the viewer, we identify with this individual. The camera, like his T.V. or the dominatrix’s whip, is our tool of domination.
Susan Meiselas was born in 1948 and received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. in Visual Education from Harvard. She has had one-woman exhibitions in Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York where she has had installations at the Whitney Museum of American Art and at the International Center of Photography’s triennial. Her work is included in American and international collections. Much of her extensive career has been devoted to documenting human rights issues in Latin America. Honorary awards of recognition include: the Robert Capa Gold Medal for “outstanding courage and reporting” for her work in Nicaragua; the Leica Award for Excellence; the Engelhard Award from the Institute of Contemporary Art; the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University for her coverage of Latin America; and the Hasselblad Foundation Photography prize. Since 1976 she has been a member of the renowned photographic cooperative Magnum Photos and in 1992, she was named a MacArthur Fellow.