“She was crying,” says Suku. “Her family was happy because I had brought them a piece of their family that was no longer with them, and he left such a good mark.”
“It was joy to see,” says Richards. “Something that you ain’t even know. That your son was in a book like that, and you know it’s going to be around for years.”
She showed Boo’s father, Lawrence Rose, Sr. “He was happy to see it and know his son is party of history.”
Richards called the museum and reached Shoemaker; Shoemaker emailed Strauss. They set up a meeting between the authors, Strauss, Richards and Richards’ 32-year-old daughter, Sumayya.
“It’s insane for so many different reasons,” says Strauss. “It’s totally crazy to be included in that kind of art instruction and to be included with the other [pieces] they have in the book … When I think of Botty and Boo, it makes perfect sense in relation to ‘Sunflowers.’ They are shining superstars.”
By all accounts, it was a very emotional meeting.
Shoemaker recalls Richards’ reaction. “She was pleased to see the picture, and remember him in a happier time,” she says.
“It’s not just a picture, but someone you love,” says Richards through tears. “He left something behind for all the children to see so they know that it’s not just about violence, it’s about life … They’re just playing in the neighborhood, doing what they want to do. They don’t want all this violence. They just want to play.”
Violence has cut into Richards’ life many times. In 2010, she buried two of Boo’s cousins, Hakim Smith and Quaan Westbrook, in one month. “All three died in July, and all three of them was 19 years old.” And they all died by gunfire.
Strauss says she’s still overwhelmed by everything she learned when she met Richards.
“The photograph is present in every day of my life,” says Strauss. “I couldn’t … get my mind around the idea of him becoming an adult and then having been murdered,” she says of Boo. Or that she would connect with his family after this much time had passed. “Ten years,” she sighs. “There was a whole life between this moment and the moment they said, ‘Come over.’”
Strauss was surprised to learn that all this time, she had been reading Boo’s expression wrong.
“He was sucking his thumb,” she says. “In my mind … he was holding his fist in an exclamation, like, ‘Oh, damn!’ And it was not true. They knew his posture and presence in that moment … It was something we all kind of marveled at a little bit.”
Strauss remembers the day she shot “Mattress Flip.” She was driving home from errands, “Kmart, probably,” when she glimpsed a body twirling through the air.
“I was driving by and they were flipping and I was like, ‘Are you joking?’” She pulled over. “I got out to be like, ‘Please, that is too high!’”
“I [said], ‘Oh my God you guys, please you have to be careful’ and they were like, ‘No, but look at this!’ and someone else did this Greg Louganis back-flip and landed on their feet.”
Strauss snapped some photos on a 35mm camera.
“[They] were really polite, really affable and funny,” she says. “They were generous in their spirit of excitement.”
“Mattress Flip” debuted as art in the first Under I-95 exhibit in November, 2001.
“I felt strongly compelled to show it, because here was this moment of just unbelievable joy,” recalls Strauss. “It really put it all the way out there in terms of the thrill of being alive.”
Employing massive shifts in scale and proximity, Strauss’ exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art features both modestly sized photographs in the gallery and an expansive installation of billboards that chart an epic voyage throughout the city.
It’s Thursday morning, and a small group of writers and photographers gather at the back entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Zoe Strauss’ first PMA solo show, Zoe Strauss: Ten Years, kicks off with a dance party next Saturday, Jan. 14. We’re here for a mini tour of the Billboard Project, a re-telling of the “Under I-95” narrative across the cityscape. As of yesterday, 54 billboards featuring Strauss’ photographs have been installed on billboards all over the city.
"Linda [right] worked at Sunoco right at I-95 and Allegheny Avenue, and I made the photo of her a few years ago. Kelly [left] was made about a year after in Vegas. When I was traveling it was somethin...
We reported in the beginning of July that Philly’s unofficial photography laureate, Zoe Strauss, was raising some cash to get to the Gulf of Mexico. Her goal? To document the aftermath of BP’s oil spill, which was the result of an explosion on an oil-drilling rig off the southeast Louisiana coast 101 days ago. What follows [...]
First Person Arts Podcast: Proud Mom