Mattress Flip by Zoe Strauss. Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Zoe Strauss, Antoinette Conti, Philadelphia, 2001. Photo courtesy of Zoe Strauss.
Zoe Strauss, Daddy Tattoo, 2004. Inkjet print, dimensions variable.
This mid-career retrospective of the work of Zoe Strauss—a charismatic Philadelphia photographer with growing national recognition and distinction—offered the first comprehensive assessment of the artist's achievement to date. Strauss' photographs range from candid street portraits and landscapes to highly detailed yet abstract compositions of building facades and vernacular signage. Her overall focus is on the working-class experience and disenfranchised people and places. She states that her ambition, as she touches on themes of identity, addiction, poverty, and hope, is to "create an epic narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life." In keeping with the populist philosophy of Strauss' work, the exhibition of over 125 prints spilled out of the museum's photography galleries into the lobby—taking the form of a kiosk designed by publishing/curatorial collective Megawords—and into the city, where Strauss curated a group of more than 50 photographic billboards, the images chosen by the artist for their resonance with their neighborhood contexts. In addition, the museum projected slide shows, designed by Strauss, onto its façade, along with a banner-sized photograph that faced West Philadelphia's residential neighborhoods. The exhibition's title refers to Strauss' then recently completed 10-year I-95 project: annual outdoor exhibitions of her work under the I-95 highway in South Philadelphia. Strauss, a recipient of fellowships from United States Artists and The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, held public office hours and blogged regularly during the retrospective.