I was at the International Center of Photography last Thursday October 4th for the opening of Zoe Strauss: 10 Years, a street photography exhibition consisting of over 100 color prints. The photographs were mainly taken in Philadelphia where the project itself began and where Zoe Strauss started teaching herself how to use a camera at the age of 30.
This exhibition is bound leave a mark. Each photograph serves as a narrative, some are simple, some complex. Curator, Peter Barabarie, a man who knows Strauss personally from the days when she held an annual street exhibition under I-95 in Philly selling her prints for five dollars a piece, gave a guided tour of the show. He told specific stories about people in the photographs. He gave a synopsis behind Daddy Tattoo, one of Strauss' most well known photographs. He told us Monique died years after Strauss took her portrait, a death that was not explained by Barbarie. He did mention another image of Monique also hanging in the exhibition, except in this portrait, Monique is shown beaten badly, barely recognizable with a black eye. You don't need to know every detail of the backstory for these images to strike a nerve.
Many of the photographs contain direct and impaction stories; no symbolism, no interpretation necessary. Within each frame there is a sense of humanity encapsulated. Words and phrases like desperation, loneliness, struggle – struggle with gender identity, addiction, and poverty – come to mind. There is also a light-hearted nature in some of the images. Strauss made sure to include the beauty and happiness along with the pain and struggle that comes with living in urban America.
There are many reasons to love this exhibition; it's edgy and aesthetically wondrous, and Strauss takes a gutsy approach to photography that yields images that begin to define subcultures and display personal narratives. By the end of browsing through Zoe Strauss: 10 Years, you'll have laughed, cringed, wondered, and been on the verge of tears. It moves you, from head to toe.
The exhibition is at the International Center of Photography located on 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street and is on view from October 4th - January 19th, 2014.
Text and photos by Carlos Fonts