Sunday, August 17, 2008

America by Zoe Strauss

OK, the book is done. And let me tell you the minutia that went into image selection is even beyond my usual ocd. Oh, way, way beyond. The image selection ended up being a great surprise to me in many ways, with images that best pair together and take into account what I've seen in the last few years about America. There's a few images that I haven't really shown before, although I think all of them are images that I have on my flickr page. I'm all about the transparency of my process so almost all of my photos are on flickr, unedited personal and "fine art" images are all out there.

As a matter of fact, there's about 25-30 images that I haven't shown, and might never show, as part of 95.

Because I wanted very specific images to move the narrative along, I found that photos I hadn't really given a lot of thought to kept popping up. For example, there had to be least 3 kisses in the book: parental, romantic and one with implications of ideology. One of those kiss photos would never be included in 95, one kiss photo was included in 2005 but is fully out of rotation and one kiss photo is a staple that will feature prominently in the line up until 2010. In terms of the composition and content, only one of the kisses is an image that's a keystone, but all three kisses will balance out the book, even with the tight edit of 186 pages for photos. And, yes, I know it's crazy to say that 186 pages is a tight edit. I can say with absolute certainty that I deliberated the possible readings of every individual photo, every paring, and the flow from front to back and back to front. I exhausted myself exploring the themes that repeat throughout the book.

Since I began working on America it's changed, but not dramatically. I've been working with the same idea and the same feel, but I've struggled with how to pull folks in to look at the whole thing and to keep an open ended, and open to interpretation, narrative. That's been a real struggle. It's been incredibly difficult working in book format. It seems as if it would be as natural as falling off a log! My mistake. It's about as natural as getting smacked in the face with a log! I know that doesn't make that much sense but I am super tired.

The book is both documentary and metaphor, allegory and fact. Most of the photos come from 2007-2008, but there are some photos from 2001-2006. When the photo was made doesn't really matter to me, it's the ability to convey the current climate in America.

While the images are of real moments and real people, the absence of context allows viewers to construct a personal reading of the images and the order and pairing of the photos should allow folks to make some connections between the photos. Some of the images in the book have text about the making of the photo. I was a resistant to including text at first because my photos are not "documentary" in many ways and not meant to be seen with text, including captions. But I see this book as a sort of document of a work in progress and I thought it made sense to talk a little about how the images were made. Again, transparency is central to my work and the demystification of how these photos were made, particularly the interactions that result in portraits, seemed to appropriate to include. It was a difficult decision because making sure that the readings of the photos are ambiguous enough to allow viewers to construct more than one reading is really important to me, but I decided to go with a slightly different presentation than the original structure I had envisioned for the book.

pp 47-48


These photos are real moments, but check out the tremendously different meanings they conjure up in different pairings. "Fist with Cash" and "Shark Bite," were both contenders for the book, but I thought it was too "heavy handed"- ha ha ha- of a connection to pair them next to each other. They make sense and I like the pairing but it would have had to been one image on one page and the other on the reverse to give viewers a little work. Eventually, I found it too difficult to make "Shark Bite" work with another image. However, "Shark Bite" and "Fist with Cash" will be most likely be paired in I-95, either across from each other or next to each other.

shark bite_1937_web

quick cash pawn fist dollars 7-1web copy

The readings of individual photos changes with the pairing and syntax of the photos...

shark bite_1937_webquick cash pawn fist dollars 7-1web copy

shark bite_1937_webpigeon web

dawn web.jpgshark bite_1937_web

Fist with Cash is in the book, Shark Bite is not.



albert said...

you're done! congrats! now it's time for zoe and lboogie to come to center city for some grub at our place. after you do a bajillion other things that is.

ruben said...

It sounds that you made the right choice at the end. Publishing is a little different than curating a show but at the end, it has to make sense and serve a purpose.
Sounds to me like the vision and the mission were accomplished, relax and let's enjoy the moment and the book!
Can't wait to hear about the book signing tour.

Derek said...

Congrats, and thanks for always explaining your thought processes, this blog is a real learning experience!

Christopher Paquette said...

When will you be doing the Regis Philbin show?

andipantz said...

Zoe, I am so happy for you and can't wait until your book hits the stands! yay for Philadelphia for having such an amazing photographer to call their very own! Big ups to you!

zs said...

thanks, my friends!