NOVEMBER 24, 2008
PHOTO FINISH: SEA TO SHINING SEA
BY ELIZA HONEY
The release of Zoe Strauss’s “America” this month coincides with a turn in American politics. Eight years ago, around the time when George Bush, Jr., became President, Strauss took up the camera for the first time, to create a photographic exhibition of her community in Philadelphia. It’s now an annual public exhibition that takes place under the I-95 highway and lasts three hours. At the end, the audience is free to rip the photographs from the pilasters and take them home. Strauss’s commitment to her community—both local and, more recently, national—speaks loudly in her work. In the last few years, Strauss has travelled across the country to places such as Las Vegas, Miami, Philadelphia, Biloxi, and the Muckleshoot Reservation, in the Pacific Northwest, yielding a comprehensive portrait of an America I knew existed but tended to forget. The people in this book may have come upon hard times, but their stance in front of the camera is one of composure and self-awareness. Strauss’s connection to her subjects runs deep, as evidenced by several emotional e-mail exchanges included in the book.
Through Strauss’s lens the American landscape is humorous, grand, and always a bit worn out. The photograph that made me laugh was of a girl gleefully sliding down a blow-up model of the Titanic; Strauss tells me that the deluxe version has an iceberg obstacle at the end. Then there are houses split down the middle yet still functioning, appliances in the desert used as shooting targets, and dilapidated signs that say “Pardon Our Dust” and “Together We Make Dreams Come True.” The narrative for this America is hopeful, perhaps something like “It wasn’t easy, but we’re O.K.”
You can see America for yourself from now until January 10th at the Bruce Silverstein gallery, in New York.
By Zoe Strauss
Ad for one of the "Titanic Slide" configurations