flesh, ash and traces of places I once knew

1. ZoeStraussAlzheimers

Alzheimer’s, Philadephia (2007) – Zoe Strauss


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Liberty Leading the People (1830) – Eugene Delacroix

Marianne, as she is called, is neither a real woman nor a mother. Her nudity functions very differently than that show in Alzheimer’s . Here, she is an allegorical symbol; Freedom personified, as if Greek goddess Nike herself descended upon the French revolutionaries and brought Hellenistic democracy.



Wendy and Lucy (2008) – Kelly Reichardt

In the hopes of starting a new life with her dog Lucy, Wendy faces the loss and search for her companion and best friend. The film is a quiet slow but tender story focusing on those inescapably trapped beneath the weight of an unanchored and penniless life.



Young Mother (2007) – Zhang Huan

Made from incense ash collected from the soot at various temples; Huan’s Young Mother embodies the medium it is made of. A medium that is the actual substance of prayers, the dust of death and rebirth and simultaneously the allegorical weight of spirits. A young mother, a naked woman is both revealed and veiled.



Naked Man, Back View, (1991–92) – Lucien Freud

Freud’s frank and vulnerable portrait reveals much of Leigh Bowery’s imposing fleshy figure but oddly provides grace and beauty to his bulk. Nudity and the figure is a classic theme in painting and photography but here it does the opposite of Strauss’ image; here, we are revealing in the flesh instead of recoiling from it.



Fransisco de Goya (1794) – Yard with Lunatics

Heavy shadows, people walled in by fences, exposed flesh and ashen figures. Mental illness simmers as the light fades and a world of shadows remains.


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Spellbound (1945) – Alfred Hitchcock

Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. Mental illness and repression. A chilling surreal look at the effects of amnesia and lengths one goes to retrieve lost memories.


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Waltz With Bashir (2008) – Ari Foleman

Opening with a vivid nightmare in which Foleman is chased by 26 ferocious dogs, he is faced with his inability to remember anything from his time during the Lebanon War. Only when he interweaves fiction, reality and dream can he uncover the truth about the acts he committed and the horrors of war.



A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (1863) – Timothy O’Sullivan

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.” ― Susan Sontag, On Photography

Therefore, according to Sontag’s analogy, O’Sullivan’s A Harvest of Death becomes a sublimation of Strauss’ Alzheimer’s.


4. Sacco-p205

Footnotes in Gaza (2010) – Joe Sacco

Seemingly a footnote to a long history of killing, that day in Rafah—cold-blooded massacre or dreadful mistake—reveals the competing truths that have come to define an intractable war. A contested landscape rendered in meticulous detail is set against the conflicting testimony and memories of those involved and the journalist. Sacco and Strauss both attempt to reveal the truths that are often both hidden and painfully oblivious in their visual investigations, though ultimately their tactics and manipulations often reveal personal biases. Footnotes in Gaza and Zoe Strauss: 10 Years are both investigations into facets of truth; the former filtered by years of war and the latter filtered by urban decay and economic struggle.



Migrant agricultural worker’s family. Seven hungry children. Mother aged thirty-two. Father is native Californian. Nipomo, California (1936) – Dorothea Lange

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.” (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

I hesitate to crystallize the connection between Strauss and Lange’s work but; alas, it is unavoidable. What is Strauss’ relationship with her subjects? How does she establish such an intimate relationship in such a small amount of time? How does she get what she wants from people on the street? What are the last effects of that relationship or that photograph on the subject? Was there really an equality between Lange and her subject? And although Strauss is conscious of these issues of exploitation, how is she placing herself in this paradigm?


A cable from the morphine pump wrapped around the side rails. His night gown with light blue snowflakes. And the staggered shallow breathing.

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