Patriot Acts

Philadelphia's Zoe Strauss presents a photographic vigil of an America struggling through the final year of the Bush Administration

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 15 | Posted Nov. 5, 2008

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All images � 2008 Zoe Strauss. All rights reserved. Courtesy

"There's no one American reality, there are hundreds and they are all true. The photos in this book are an American reality that I know, from where I live in Philadelphia and from where I've traveled in the last few years. I found this same America no matter where I went. A joyful, loving and proud America. A mean, fearful and apathetic America. Beautiful, brutal, myopic, idealistic, stunted, exuberant. America is all of it. And as an American, I'm all of this too. Here we are."

--Zoe Strauss

While pundits howled over economic collapse and an epic presidential race churned the politics of gender, race and class into discussions from boardrooms to billiard halls, Zoe Strauss was struggling with assembling her vision of America. "I really wanted to address what's happened during the last eight years," says Strauss, 38, sitting in her South Philly studio. "We're coming to the end of an absolute tragedy."

America, to be published by AMMO Books this month, is a collection of 165 photographs that explore the country's tumultuous atmosphere as we celebrate the death rattle of the Bush administration.

Artistically, the book is an homage to Robert Frank's The Americans, the seminal book of photography by the reclusive Swiss-born artist perhaps better known in popular culture for his cover image of Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. and for directing Cocksucker Blues. The Americans is celebrating its 50th anniversary with retrospective exhibits planned throughout 2009.

A collection of shots taken while crisscrossing the country on road trips, The Americans stripped the veneer of twirling poodle skirts and shiny muscle cars off the 1950s by showcasing the melancholy beauty of a vast country through portraits of Route 66 waitresses slinging dime cups of coffee, as well as truck drivers, street buskers and assorted denizens of jukebox blues.

In the original introduction, Jack Kerouac wrote that Frank had "sucked a sad, sweet poem out of America." Strauss' goal was to revisit the country's atmosphere 50 years later.

The majority of the photographs in America were taken in Philadelphia. Strauss refracts the American spirit through the grooves of our faces, the way we hang our jaw, the ramshackle fragments of deindustrialization that grow and shed on our streets like coral.

The balance of the photos were snapped on road trips Strauss embarked on specifically for the book. She clicked and whirred through El Paso, Atlanta, Chicago and the Trinity Site, the former test site in the New Mexican desert where a booming shattering of light blasted America into the atomic age in July 1945. Now it's a tourist attraction where travelers collect shards of radioactive rock and children's faces are painted with bombs and flags--just the kind of American paradox that blows Strauss' mind. A lifelong Philadelphian, she says traveling so much changed her perspective.

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Comments 1 - 15 of 15
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1. LEBOWSKI said... on Nov 5, 2008 at 06:55AM

“Hi Tara, Who would have thought that an education in the Pinelands of New Jersey would have yielded such an articulate and insightful wordsmith? Although your Dickensian paradoxes would probably weigh heavy on the ears of majority of liberal educators at your Alma Mater.”

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2. Jayne Doe said... on Nov 5, 2008 at 08:13AM

“you go zoe! you rightish powerhouse of DYN-O-MITE! Love, Jayne Doe, Former Ho”

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3. Anthony Smyrski said... on Nov 5, 2008 at 09:58AM

“How can we carry your book??”

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4. Zoe Strauss said... on Nov 5, 2008 at 10:27AM

“This is an awesome story... wait, it's about me! Tony, you can get my book from the publisher... or just email me. Thanks for such a great piece, Tara. This has been one of the greatest weeks of my life. This election marks a magnificent achievement for America and I am so proud of us and so thrilled for us. ”

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5. LEBOWSKI said... on Nov 5, 2008 at 10:27AM

“This is an awesome story... wait, it's about me! Tony, you can get my book from the publisher... or just email me. Thanks for such a great piece, Tara. This has been one of the greatest weeks of my life. This election marks a magnificent achievement for America and I am so proud of us and so thrilled for us.”

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6. true said... on Nov 5, 2008 at 02:10PM

“I hope your pride comes from the completion of your book, and not Barack Hussein Obama getting elected. That is nothing to brag about. Only the sheep who are not informed beyond the slanted media believe what they have been fed over the last four years. A black man should be elected based on his ability, not his color. Same goes for any other race. The facts are that McCain is a war hero with 30 years experience in politics, and Obama is a two term Senator who has never had his name on a piece of major legislature. He is a cereal box produced by the Democratic Party. A well spoken figure head who should know that his legacy as the first black president is a gray area, pardon the pun, considering his mother is white, and he is a Muslim. Wake me up in four years, and BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

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7. JJ in Seattle said... on Nov 5, 2008 at 02:54PM

“That's a nice touch using Obama's middle name, true. You're really creative, (sarcasm). Thank God you and your crazy friends didn't ruin my party last night because this country is on an amazing high right now, and bigots like yourself have no seat at our table. Good riddance to you, bigot! ”

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8. Bob J. said... on Nov 5, 2008 at 06:36PM

“Tara, Since you wish to make our society better perhaps you can take off your biased glasses and actually inform or remind the public about how to get to the real root cause of our economic troubles. You can start with researching Senate Bill S.190. The "Federal Housing Enterprise Reform Act of 2005". When the Liberal Media asked top Democrats this question, they would say the bill didn't pass and quickly change the subject . The reason the bill didn't pass was because the whole Democratic Party filibusted the bill. That's right the Democrats and the "Annointed One". What was the reason the didn't want to Strengthen Regulatory controls on Clinton's pet company? Because, they wanted to get Low Income (Sub-prime) voters. They did such a nice job ignoring their responsibilities that they Bankrupt about 90% of the people they were trying to help. Obama ran a fantastic campaign, and congradulations to thier party faithfuls. He is a fantastic orator and I wish him luck, but the Liberal Media was so biased they actually elevated the very party and (2005 Senator) that was part of the root cause behind the Financial Tsunami. McCain was right, but he was such a lousy speaker he couldn't get his message across. The Republicans have a lot of work to do, but the Democrats are mirror looks just as ugly. For those of you that think I am spewing a bias, please be reminded that Fannie & Freddy also bribed about 7 Republicans to get the bill cleared off the books (Rejected). Wonder where your 401K went.? Look up the history of the bill. How about it Tara do you have what it takes to be a Fair and Balanced person. Why don't you show some pictures of some Foreclosed Homes and a snapshot of someones previous life savings. If you can't ,I suggest you look up Rupert Kipplings poem "IF". You might learn something about integrity. The most ironic part of this election, is that McCains integrity actually cost him the election. He railroaded Republican efforts to eliminate the filibuster (20023). How is that for ironic!”

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9. true said... on Nov 6, 2008 at 08:18AM

“Oh? Using his middle name was as purposeful as the Democratic Party making sure NOT to use it. However you arrived at the notion that I am a bigot, I think the Kool Aid you've been drinking has finally gone to your head. I think "high" is an appropriate word to use considering that all you wanted to do slander me and innaccurately label me a bigot. Why not address the factual statements made in my comment with an intelligent dialogue backed up with facts. Of course there is no room for me at your table. It is teeming with welfare mothers, crack-whores, indigents, and every other pathetic scum with a sense of entitlement, stealing my tax dollars. I am not without empathy. In fact, I am a philanthropist, but as an American who works two jobs just to get by, I want the ability to choose whom I donate to. There is a word for the other way and it rhymes with Hommupism.”

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10. It's true. He's a Bigot. said... on Nov 7, 2008 at 01:02AM

“False. President-elect Obama, with or without the emphasis of his middle name, is what could best be described as a non-denominational Christian. However, whether Obama is a Mormon, a Buddhist, or is the second-coming of L.Ron-freaking-Hubbard himself, is inconsequential. Perhaps it would be in your best interest to take a gander at that supposed separation of Church & State issue. It must be difficult, I realize, what with the past Republican administration acting as the hand of god with it's Roman Catholic virtues under the guise of democracy. Second, you can "empathize" all you want, or throw your cash at that whatever charitable cause helps you sleep at night, but know this: No amount of money, earned, donated or otherwise can buy yourself free from bigotry. Third and last: Yes, bigotry. Because that's what you are, a bigot. A hateful, ignorant person hiding beind tax-deductable donations claiming slander. "Kool Aid and crack-whores." Yes, those are the words from a true philanthropist, a real humanitarian. And you have the audacity to speak of entitlement. How's this for a title? Bigot. ”

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11. Maragie Strosser said... on Nov 7, 2008 at 06:52AM

“I love your work and your photo brain child I-95 eight years in and going stronger and I love your attitude, and I love that you have made visual poetry out of south philadelphia - my home. YES YOU CAN! Margie Strosser”

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12. true said... on Nov 12, 2008 at 01:02PM

“False. Since we are not in school, and I am not discussing prayer, or removing the word "God" from our currency, separation of church and state had nothing to do with my argument. But once again, you can not speak to the facts I laid out. Well? A two term senator who has not been part of any major legislation or had any foreign affairs experience. Well? Can you? Can you stop distracting the question with empaticism about bigotry? I can be and I am a philanthropist. Just because I don't wish for my government to tell me who needs my money doesn't mean I am a racist. People who can get jobs, should not. Vets, injured defending our country who are disabled and can not find reasonable work, should. Mentally challenged people without families, should. People who reproduce indiscrimantely should not. There is not a bigoted bone in my body. Simply someone who has read their history books, studied economics, and believe in the principles this country was founded on? Do you believe the American Dream is to have countless babies with unnamed fathers and have hard working Americans pay for their government cheese and diapers? These people should be nuetered like animals. Oh, and if Obama is not Muslim, explain this picture. Remember, not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim. How about his ties to Ayers, a known domestic terrorist? And before you spout off your programmed response downplaying their relationship as having once served on a school board together, remember that two years ago, Ayers through Obama his coming out party in his very own living room. So. Stop with the labeling, and name calling, and say something intelligent and factual about these proven allegations.”

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13. true said... on Nov 12, 2008 at 01:04PM

“I was typing to quickly and would like to correct through with threw. Apologies.”

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14. true said... on Nov 12, 2008 at 01:09PM

“Sorry, one more thing. The Kool Aid comment had nothing to do with racism. You must equate Kool Aid with a beverage enjoyed by group of minorities. That is very racist. I was referring to Jonestown and the sheep that commited suicide following a crazy cult leader. Read your history books, get some original thoughts, and take your head out of your ass. Sheep. BAAAAAAAAAAA”

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15. Diane said... on Jun 24, 2012 at 12:24PM

“Ok, the racist card has been played on and on but now I need to ask, who are the bigots and what are they racist against...the white or black side of Obama?
Obama's heritage is replete with communists. His own mother and father as well as grandparents were so embroiled in communist organizations that they should all wear a red star on their clothing.
Oft times we have used the middle name of Presidents: FDR, JFK as examples so why is Obama and his pals so angry when Obama's middle name is aired. Is it so they refuse to admit that Obama comes from a clearly Muslim background and in fact Rev Wright, the 'so-called' Christian minister, was a Muslim until he 'converted'. His hate to which Obama listened to for many years seems to me no different that that of Louis Farrakhan.
Not once have I heard Obama give a litany of Christian thought but often I heard him extol the greatness of Islam. Or is it that I read more often than those who tinkle down their pants whenever Obama speaks?”


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