For her first residency stay at the Gardner in 2016, Zoe Strauss spent much of her time in the apartment, which she had transformed into an immersive studio filled with notes, sketches, timelines, articles, and even sea creatures sculpted from orange peels. This work helped her plot out three books, which will become a dialogue around the disappearing communities as a result of environmental destruction in the Gulf.
During the course of her career, Strauss has worked on several long-term projects that arise from close personal contact with the people and communities she has photographed. Her ability to establish intimacy through brief conversations has been a powerful force behind her images. This way of working was reflected in her interests in the Gardner collection. Zoe spent time in the Museum’s archives looking at Isabella’s personal correspondence, as well as communications she collected, such as a letter written by Benjamin Franklin and a calling card from Rodin inscribed to Sargent. She was also interested in photographs from Isabella and Jack’s travels, and those taken during the construction of the Museum. Touring the galleries with archivist Shana McKenna, Strauss was particularly taken with the photograph of Walt Whitman that resides in a case in the Blue Room.
Strauss returned to the Museum in January 2017 for her project Office Hours. In the project, she invited special guests (a cartographer, an ambulance driver, a curator, a professor of anthropology, a teacher, a scientist, and more) and visitors to sit on the other side of her desk in the Macknight Room and discuss a wide range of topics with her. She chose this room because it was where Isabella Stewart Gardner kept her desk, as well as books and an eclectic array of objects that were meaningful to her. Morris Carter, the first director of the Museum, set up his downstairs office in this room too.
Zoe Strauss (b. 1970 USA) is an installation artist and street photographer living and working in Philadelphia. Previously known for her public art happenings and installations, Strauss took up photography in 2000 when she embarked on a ten-year project called Under I-95. She devoted her life to the project, and one result was that she was elected to be a member of Magnum Photos. An epic, open-ended narrative in photographs “about the beauty and struggle of everyday life,” Under I-95 hinged on an annual, one-day exhibition of Strauss’s street photography (in the form of color photocopies priced at five dollars each) posted on the concrete pillars under an elevated section of Interstate 95 in South Philadelphia. Other projects include The Billboard Project, a series of photographs on 54 billboards that appeared in dozens of Philadelphia neighborhoods. For the 2013 Carnegie International, Strauss focused her lens on Homestead, Pennsylvania, once home to Andrew Carnegie’s flagship plant, Homestead Steel Works, and the site of the infamous 1892 labor strike.
Strauss has received many awards for her photography, including a Seedling Award from the Leeway Foundation, a Pew Fellowship, and the George Gund Foundation Fellowship. Strauss was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial, and was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, in Philadelphia. She is also the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Public Art Project. In 2017, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship.