Zoe Strauss: 10 Years is currently on view at the ICP Museum. Strauss’s work consists of impromptu portraits and photographs of houses and signage which comment on the economic hardships of residents in her community and around the United States. Throughout the exhibit Strauss creates layers of meaning which cause the viewers to double-take. Initially the images seem easily read, but upon second glance the audience will see the essence of the photograph. One major theme that repeats is the idea of finding beauty in ugliness.
Of her work on display, I respond most to Equitable, 2005 and this image was the inspiration for the following online curation On Second Thought.
Zoe Strauss, Equitable, 2005, 2005
I chose to include this one of Atget’s because I liked the repetition of windows with this image and Equitable, 2005. The above image is looking out to the idea of equality, below we are looking in on fine menswear that acts as an equalizer, but only if you have the finances to access those articles of clothing.
Eugène Atget, Magasin (Menswear Shop Window), Avenue des Gobelins, 1926
When I first saw the following image, I almost skipped over it in the museum. Both the photographer and worker are able to find the beauty in this precarious situation. Our worker has an extremely difficult job and risks his life every day, however, he does get to touch the sky and buildings.
Lewis Hine, Empire State Building Construction Worker Touching the Top of the Chrysler Building, 1930
Migrant mother also evokes the idea of finding beauty in the darkness. It is her strength and resolve that keeps her family together, even in the face of the Great Depression. She is weathered but more than capable of the task at hand.
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936
While looking at the different iterations of the following photograph from Walker Evans I decided to show both side by side. Seeing the two displayed together comments on how important choosing the right image is. By right I mean the image that gets the artist’s intent across. The image that we typically see is of a more stoic sitter and our hearts go out to her because she stares the Great Depression in the face with strength in her eyes.
Walker Evans, Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama, 1936
Weegee’s NEW YORK IS A FRIENDLY TOWN, is a really great match for Equitable, 2005 in that the letters themselves convey positive messages, yet how the letters appear have a negative connotation. In Equitable, 2005 the letters are missing parts of illumination and in NEW YORK IS A FRIENDLY TOWN the text’s faint repetition seems foreboding in a way.
Weegee, NEW YORK IS A FRIENDLY TOWN, 1945
In the same vein as the Walker Evans photographs I decided to feature the contact sheet containing Child With Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City, USA from Diane Arbus. The artist’s choice is even more apparent in this work. When one looks at each negative they can see that the now famous image is the best choice out of the shots taken. It’s clearly her style and creates the most empathy from the audience.
Diane Arbus, Child With Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City, USA, 1962
In this image Kenneth Josephson is claiming the area inside the mat window as art simply because he has framed it inside that mat. The area framed isn’t anything particular special, just the paint that signifies where cars can pull up to at a red light. One could even say that the line is ugly, but Josephson has made it beautiful by raising it to the status of art.
Kenneth Josephson, L.A., 1982
Rogger Ballen’s Diamond Digger and Son Standing on Bed, Western Transvaal is the closest image to the rest of the work by Strauss. The mother and son stand on a bed in a disheveled room and seem to be part of a meager socioeconomic class. They each present an image as if it is their one prized possession. Out of all the images in this set this is the one that truly embodies Strauss’s search for the beauty in the ugly.
Roger Ballen, Diamond Digger and Son Standing on Bed, Western Transvaal, 1987
This piece by Nikita Gale talks about sex and love, but because of the language used could be read as much harsher and “uglier”. However, since the piece starts at FUCK and ends at LOVE it finds the beauty in the “ugliness”. Work involving love can easily become too sweet but this piece by Gale avoids being that both in the how the letters are printed on the page and the use of all capital letters. Strauss’s work at times toes the line of sweetness but never is too much.
Nikita Gale, Modern Romance, 2010
And last but not least I wanted to include my own image of the Equitable building. This image has a more overt negativity to it, but the hidden beauty is all in the lines throughout the photograph. Although the word itself has that negative connotation ascribed to it the form of the photograph is comforting and the shapes that are made make this somewhat dismal picture more pleasing.
Beau Torres, quitable, 2010
When asked to specifically add an image of our own to the chosen images I wanted to include something that I feel is closer to Strauss’ own approach to photographing. While on a recent trip to my parent’s house I photographed their bathroom before they remodeled. In this image I wanted to juxtapose the pristine curtain with the tattered wallpaper. For me this image touches on resilience and seeing the good in the bad. The wallpaper may be falling apart but it is still holding on.
Beau Torres, wallpaper, 2013