Apr 21–Jul 30, 2006

Ramp Project: Zoe Strauss


Zoe Strauss, Ramp, 2006

Ramp Project: Zoe Strauss, 2006, installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania.

Strauss transforms ICA’s Ramp Space with an installation of her photographs and a slide show. Strauss wraps the windows of the 36th Street façade in a huge blow-up of one of the images from her accompanying slide show that focus on themes of desire, in all of its beauty and repulsion. The ninth in a series of temporary works commissioned for the Ramp, Strauss’s work can be seen April 21–July 30, 2006.

Strauss (b. 1970, Philadelphia), a self-taught photographer, has been described as the chronicler of Philadelphia’s mean streets and the town’s own Diane Arbus. Armed with her Nikon D70, she captures the irony, honesty, and joy in corner stores, signs, billboards, the industrial landscape, people living in her South Philadelphia neighborhood and, most recently, the devastation left in Katrina’s wake in Biloxi, Mississippi. She is the first member of her working-class family to graduate high school and although always interested in photography, it was not until she received a camera for her 30th birthday that her career began.

For the past five years Strauss has been committed to a 10-year project she calls the Philadelphia Public Art Project (PAP), a photo archive that will document the people and neighborhoods of her native city creating photographs that find beauty in the forgotten and overlooked. Her portraits are both emotionally direct and compassionate. “I am interested in producing photographs that are both a story unto themselves and part of a cohesive body of work designed to be viewed in public spaces,” Strauss says.

Accessibility is a big part of her work and her politics. Her fifth annual Under I-95 show is scheduled for this May and is free and open to the public. During this event she transforms the concrete expanse into her own temporary museum. Paula Marincola, director of the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, describes the space as “a ruined cathedral,” which Strauss activates. More than 200 images are affixed to the concrete pilasters under I-95. Having the shows under I-95 helps viewers connect with how she felt while she was making the work. “I want someone to be able to walk through it and have that same feeling looking at the landscape and architectural shots as well as the portraits,” says Strauss. Copies of the photos sell for $5 a piece and are available at the show and on her website. The affordability is as much a statement as her subject matter.
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Wed, Oct 3, 2012, 6:30PM
Free For All: Fall 2012
Wed, Mar 27, 2013, 6:30PM
Free For All: Spring 2013
ICA acknowledges primary sponsorship of the William Penn Foundation for this project. We are also grateful for the generous support of Elaine Finkelstein. Additional funding has been provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, The Dietrich Foundation Inc., the Overseers Board for the Institute of Contemporary Art, friends and members of ICA, and the University of Pennsylvania. ICA is also grateful for inkind support from Loews Philadelphia Hotel.