Photographer Susan Meiselas on documenting women’s refuges

By Rachel Cooke

The revered Magnum photojournalist spent several months in Black Country shelters, working with residents on a new book, A Room of Their Own

By her own account, it took Susan Meiselas, a celebrated Magnum photographer and former recipient of a MacArthur “genius” fellowship , some time to get interested in the Black Country. Invited by Multistory, a community arts charity based in Sandwell, near Birmingham, to seek inspiration there – the organisation has previously worked with other Magnum photographers, including Martin Parr – initially, she found herself just a touch underwhelmed.

“My first trip didn’t exactly give me the sense that I should return there tomorrow,” she says. “I couldn’t grab on to anything; nothing held me. But Emma Chetcuti [Multistory’s director] is persistent. The next year, she said: ‘Why don’t you give it another try?’ This time, I did some reading first, which is how I found out about the high rates of domestic violence in the region.” Finally, she felt she was getting somewhere: “This connected to a 1990 project of mine, when I worked on the same issue in San Francisco.” (Meiselas is American, born in Baltimore.)

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