I had the opportunity to check out the Zoe Stauss ten-year retrospective which opened two weeks ago at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her photos, which aim to capture “an epic narrative about the beauty and struggle of everyday life,” was made all the more impressive considering Strauss only began her photography at the age of 30, exhibiting for the first time in 2001 on her own without any gallery representation.
Most of Strauss’ work documents her own neighborhood and surrounding areas, and there’s definitely a feeling that she isn’t far removed from her subjects, giving her portraits a real sense of intimacy. Between human subjects, unique architecture, consumer culture, and disarming snapshots of text, the volume of work is impressive, keen, and witty, capturing everyday scenes removed from its original context. Strauss’ work also included photographs addressing current events, and her pictures from her time spent volunteering and rebuilding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were poignant reminders of the event.
My personal favorite from the show was a series of images featuring mattresses. The image above simply doesn’t do it justice – the print itself is luminescent, transforming something normally vulgar into a visual that is quite captivating.
Strauss’ efforts to make her work as publicly accessible as possible are also a source of inspiration. Since 2001, Strauss has annually presented her “I-95” shows, displaying her photographs underneath elevated sections of the aforementioned highway for all to see, and offering printed works for only five dollars. For the show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Strauss even lobbied (unsuccessfully) to reduce the admission price. For those unable to make it to the exhibit, prints of her photographs are installed on 54 billboards around the city. You can plan your route around the city to see them all, and her entire catalog is available online. If you happen to be in the neighborhood at our store in Philly, you’ll find yourself triangulated by three billboards just a short bike ride away (one of them is pictured below). – Tommy, E-Commerce