Zoe Strauss Photography Exhibit
In March I went with my two sons and a few friends to see an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art featuring photography by Zoe Strauss.[pullquote style=”left” quote=”dark”]Mom, look that guy is naked” my 12 year old whispered to me as he clung to my arm.[/pullquote]
Only moments after entering the exhibit, my youngest child’s reaction was a mix of curiosity and horror. “Mom, look that guy is naked” my 12 year old whispered to me as he clung to my arm. “I know you said nudity is okay in art, but mom.” He was reacting to an image of an adult male, his naked body stretched across a bed in a dirty run down hotel room, looking more like a dirty old man than a model. Each photograph in the exhibit brought a new tremor of shock to my son, whom up until this moment had been sheltered even from the evening news.
The focus of Zoe’s work is on neighborhoods many of us would steer clear of even during the brightest part of the day. Her photos exhibit the everyday struggle of those that are often forgotten or ignored. After looking at Zoe’s photographs, many, including myself, will find it difficult to ever get the images of “Daddy Tattoo” or “Vanessa Philadelphia” out of our mind. Vanessa’s cigarette smoke or Daddy Tattoo’s black lip liner and tattoo will be forever remembered.
Zoe’s subjects are not glamour queens or movie stars, but instead they are the reality of what our city streets look like to those that inhabit them. Zoe doesn’t choose to capture a glorious gleaming white toothy smile, instead she shares with us the blackened eye of a young women who looks like she has seen more than her share of misery. “Cynthia” scowls at the camera while being photographed in her party dress and curls, the pretty of her dress out of place on the city street. This is their reality.
Zoe’s photographs are not always technically correct. Her subjects are not restricted to the intersections of thirds or photoshopped skin softened to perfection. They are instead raw, edgy and void of apologies or excuses. Zoe is not in pursuit of perfection, but instead portrays reality, the less than perfect part of everyday life we don’t want to think about. Zoe tells us their story, the real story of the life and death struggle. A struggle so many us often choose to ignore.
By: Kelly Ann Jones