Photographer Zoe Strauss Took This Photo 10 Years Ago. Here Is the Story of "Mattress Flip"

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 17 | Posted Jan. 10, 2012

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“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.”

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 17 of 17
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1. Shadira said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 11:51AM

“Congrats Cuz U Reaaly Can Change A Person Life Foreal! Ily!”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 01:12PM

“I have lived on this block of McClellan St. since 1997... I remember the summer of those mattresses, how they drew the local children, how we watched in awe at the deftness of their moves and insecurity that one of those children might land badly and be hurt terribly. It went on for at least a week or maybe more before they were removed, gratefully before anyone got hurt. Years later, I wandered into Ms. Strauss' exhibit under 95, saw the photo and bought one. What a memory to be preserved so beautifully! I am sorry to hear about Boo, he represents so many that I watch grow here, some coming to a tragic end as he did, seemingly more then your average small neighborhood. The moment caught in the photo is one, having experienced it myself, is true and pure, the surge of joy in youth, testing the limits of it's body, a real life celebrating it's own force... What a gift.”

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3. Zoe Strauss said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 01:22PM

“Thank YOU, Sa'Diyya! Much love.”

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4. Mary C. said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 01:33PM

“Seeing the picture and then reading Boo's story left an ache in my heart. It is as if nothing could be done to prevent the outcome but this isn't true. Why was this the outcome and why were we so helpless to prevent a young man's death. Thank you, Zoe Strauss for capturing that moment and thank you, Philadelphia Inquirer for relating this story to all of us, We need to learn from this.”

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5. kcrace said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 02:29PM

“”

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6. Girls' Club said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 03:03PM

“It's a beautiful image.... Mattress Flip is on view now thru September 2012 at Girls' Club in Fort Lauderdale as part of the exhibition "Re-Framing the Feminine: photography from the collection of Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz." Exhibition surveys more than 50 female artists working with different modes of contemporary photography. More information about the exhibition, open hours, directions, etc. at www.girlsclubcollection.org”

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7. Anonymous said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 04:18PM

“wow. I'm crying. Condolences to Boo's friends and families.”

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8. Kathy said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 09:01PM

“Sincere condolences to Boo's kin and friends. I hope many people read this and understand there are so many stories and faces like Boo's underneath the crippling violence. Before reading this, I've always felt such incredible energy in this photo. I'm glad that it's a funny of him having fun that he's remembered in. You can just imagine the many lives that Zoe's photos depict a moment of.”

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9. Thomas Devaney said... on Jan 12, 2012 at 08:29AM

“Tara Murtha's story of Zoe's legendary photograph "Mattress Flip," is extraordinary. One of her best. The story of Lawrence Edward Rose Jr is absolutely heartbreaking. Zoe's story is giant and contains multitudes, but the magic of the work is that her photographs are so powerfully intimate, immediate, heroic, unforgettable.”

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10. htshell said... on Jan 12, 2012 at 01:11PM

“Excellent article. I've seen this photo for years and not known the story and how many lives it has touched. Very excited for Zoe Strauss at the PMA!”

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11. Anonymous said... on Jan 12, 2012 at 02:41PM

“I am so sorry to hear about boo. I had this picture as my computer wallpaper for about a year because those kids made me feel so happy. I feel like I've lost an old friend.”

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12. Khadijah Alderman said... on Jan 13, 2012 at 08:55AM

“From this article I have felt such ambivalence. It's sad and I continue to pray for the Richards family and Lawrence Rose, as well as all the young men and their families who have been affected by gun violence.
But I must say!" It was so refreshing to see this photo". It was LIFE with no inhibitions. It was like "NEXT"! This will be my lasting memory of Lawrence Rose.”

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13. Erica Bantom Martin said... on Jan 14, 2012 at 10:35AM

“Phenomenal work and phenomenal story. Thank you so much Zoe for your beautifullworks of art that tell the story of living in the city and Tara for writing this story. There are sooo many stories in our neighborhoods that go untold, I am grateful for this family that Boo's story did not go unnoticed. Thanks.

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14. Dorothea said... on Jan 15, 2012 at 08:32AM

“i would like to thank Zoe and the staff at the at the Art museum for keeping my son memory alive. Thanks you Ms.Suku for helping help finding the picture. making To here from some many positive people about my son it just brings tears to my eyes. At least my son didn't die in vain. This is a message to everyone please put down them guns live and let live. Life is to short, enjoy each day like its your last, have fun, run, jump, flip but don't shot. Thanks Sister khadijah and Tia Mr. & Mrs. Suku for everything and most of all Thank you Zoe.
peace and blessing to each and everyone”

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15. Anonymous said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 09:36AM

“So... the boy who is doing the flipping never got a penny from this? nice.”

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16. Anonymous said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 09:36AM

“So... the boy who is doing the flipping never got a penny from this? nice.”

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17. Moe said... on May 22, 2012 at 10:21AM

“I really like that picture. It reminded me of my childhood. I would love doing flips in the trampoline and on my parents king sized bed. I will have to check out more of this guy's work. It looks excellent from what I have seen so far. I remember that when I was getting a roofing inspection that I looked down from the roof and got a little scared. I thought of the people who jumped down from a burning home onto the trampolines that the firemen would be holding out. I think that it would freak me out. I bet that this guy in the picture would flip onto the trampoline.”

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