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Maus  Contemporary





Photography for Sonja Rieger is about the examination of place through the study of its inhabitants, the empires they build and the monuments of daily life that they celebrate and endure. It is also very much about the poetry of image, the collage that color, movement and form build and about events and people that shift the trajectory of history.

Rieger states: “When I moved from the Northeast to Birmingham, I began photographing the South, which has a look defined by its own peculiar growth and development. There is a proximity of the urban and the rural that can only occur because of the confluence of certain events. What I have photographed – lightning, shotgun houses, social clubs, children on Halloween and the view of the city from the base of the Appalachian Mountains – epitomizes the growth and development. The cultural and political history of the place has left its mark on the look of the city.





Sonja Rieger

Queen on the Nile




Sonja Rieger’s new photographs were taken in the town of Camden, Alabama, some thirty eight miles from Selma, Alabama. As of the 2010 census, there were 2,020 people residing in the town; over one out of four households had a female householder with no husband present.

Rieger’s new series of photographs are portraits of young girls in their Halloween costumes, some of the costumes were purchased, some were homemade, as if cobbled together in a marvelous attempt to escape a reality, an everyday routine, a town too small, a place too hard. The girls‘ faces marvel at the camera, as if it would, could, transport them into their newly adopted identity; the superhero, the princess, the queen. In an attempt to document a moment of escape, of wishful “otherness”, we, the spectators, gaze at faces filled with excitement, happiness, shyness, and sometimes disillusion; but also stares of resolve, defiance, and determination.


"Artelia Bendolph, Gee's Bend, Alabama, 1937" by Arthur Rothstein (1915-1986)"Artelia Bendolph, Gee's Bend, Alabama, 1937" by Arthur Rothstein (1915-1986)

Photographic portraits as social commentary have existed all through the medium’s life, and Rieger’s most recent series makes us immediately think of the photographs shot in South Alabama by Arthur Rothstein (1915-1986), while working for the U.S. government. Rothstein’s series of images shot in 1937 in Alabama - especially the image “Artelia Bendolph, Gee’s Bend, Alabama, 1937 ” (shown on left). The photograph conveys a strong visual statement on the girl’s living condition, and an immediate parallel is drawn to the living condition of her fellow black Alabamians. The serious, weighted expression on the child’s face poignantly illustrates her disenfranchised social and economic position.

The framing of the crude cabin window and the newspaper insulation with its unattainable food advertisements reinforce her isolation from the recovering American economy.
Rothstein often referred to the young girl in this image, Artelia, as a “Queen on the Nile” (1).


For Rothstein, this image does so much, with three different effects, all working together to create this one image: “You see the girl - that’s effect one. You see the ad [the blond woman] - that’s effect number two. But the third effect is when you see both images together and recognize the irony.” (2)


Sonja Rieger (b. 1953 in Ansbach, Germany) earned her MFA in 1979 at the Rutgers University Mason Gross School in Brunswick, NJ, and her MA in 1976 at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of the 21c Museum in Louisville, KY; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, LA; the International Polaroid Collection in Cambridge, MA; the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham, AL; and private collections in the U.S. and Belgium.





(1) (2) Arthur Rothstein, Documentary Photography, Focal Press, 1986, page 39




Sonja Rieger DAZZLINGSonja Rieger DAZZLING
publication available

Rieger’s stunning "Dazzling" series (portraits of gay African American beauty pageants in the Deep South)


St. James

archival pigment print on
Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308
edition of 3 + 1 AP
45 by 30 in. (on 51 by 36 in. paper)

St. James

archival pigment print on
Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308
edition of 4 + 1 AP
36 by 24 in. (on 42 by 30 in. paper)