WHEN THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME: ZOE STRAUSS

Posted on October 17, 2013 by Isabella Cecconi

Self-taught photographer and political activist, Zoe Strauss sees her work as a type of social intervention, and she has often used billboards and public meetings as venues. Strauss bought her first camera at the age of thirty, in order to execute her a project she’d long been planning, “I-95” (2000-2010). Each year on the first Sunday in May, Strauss would attach her photos to pillars underneath a bridge on the I-95 highway in Philadelphia. The photos were on view for three hours, after which they were free for the taking. Zoe Strauss describes her work as “an epic narrative about the beauty and struggle of everyday life.” Strauss’s subjects are broad but her primary focus is on working-class experience, including the most disenfranchised people and places. Her photographs offer a poignant, troubling portrait of contemporary America. Untrained as a photographer she founded the Philadelphia Public Art Project in 1995 with the objective of exhibiting art in nontraditional venues. Strauss provided us with an honest, uncensored view of economic and social realities. She often focused on people on the fringes of society, or those who are “just getting by.” She began by photographing people in and around her city, and has since taken pictures all over the world, with an eye, she says to exploring “the strength in how we figure out our lives, and the truth of how sometimes we can’t work it out.” Strauss’ photographs are grounded in her clear-sighted empathy, which allows the viewer to feel like part of the exchange between photographer and subject.

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