It was in 2001 when Zoe Strauss first came up with the idea of exhibiting her photographs on the support beams holding up Interstate 95, in her home city of Philadelphia. Since then Strauss’ work has been up on display “Under I-95” every year in a free event. This year, Strauss and her confrontational photographs will experience a more traditional art show—a retrospective of the artist’s work so far titled “Ten Years” which will be on display through April 22nd at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in addition to billboards placed around the city.
Zoe Strauss’ photography focuses on the faces and backdrops of Philadelphia’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods. She explores communities in her city (and some during her travels) and captures everyday images of people and places. Whether the subjects are, disturbing or simply unattractive, they are always honest in their depiction of poverty, struggle, and the grim aspects of marginal life.
Strauss follows in the tradition of the photographer capturing what is always hidden and overlooked. She takes interest in the people which society shuns or wishes to pretend do not exist. Her portrait work in “Ten Years” is sometimes reminiscent of a less-romantic Nan Goldin or a working class Diane Arbus,
who rather than looking for the outsiders, comes across them close to home. Then there are the landscapes which these people inhabit: isolated, decaying, and rarely visited by those who do not populate them. Strauss presents us with those streets—their signage and objects which more often than not are haunting.
Zoe Strauss considers herself an amateur, but her supposedly untrained eye and fearlessness in finding subject matter tell urban tragedies in the most fitting, unrefined style. Philadelphians and those visiting the nearby city are now invited to face these realities either intentionally or unintentionally, by paying a visit to the PMoA or by stumbling upon a piece of her Billboard Project.