Philadelphia's Zoe Strauss presents a photographic vigil of an America struggling through the final year of the Bush Administration
Strauss' logo is a silhouette fashioned from a snapshot of an 18-year-old Strauss in Nicaragua. She says she wanted to see a revolution up close, wanted to know what it meant. So she flew down and joined a work camp that aided El Salvadoran refugees.
Talking to her among a gallery of portraits, it's hard not to notice that Strauss' America is full of refugees: refugees of the rusted, industrial devolution of closed factory towns, of impossible gender expectations, of class-born cancer, of hearts that crackle with beautiful love the magazines would call ugly. America is a record of dreams lost in the smoke and mirrors of the Bush administration, and of the dreams that will survive it.
Proud people will fight. They'll mobilize to end an oppressive regime. They'll keep screaming for 28 years. They'll remember loved ones by carving the names of the dead into their skin. People want to be seen for what they've endured and what they're willing to do.
In the logo, you can't tell exactly what's in the woman's hands, but it isn't a camera. It's Strauss holding an AK-47 assault rifle. She says she chose it because she wants people to know: "I'm in it to win it. I'm down for the revolution," she says. "I'm telling you that right now."
America wasn't only printed in China, it was censored in China. Don't worry, the irony isn't lost on Strauss. The two offending photos showed penises. More interestingly, two of the three penises had tattoos on the tips--one of a Harley-Davidson logo and one adorned with flames. "How crazy is that? It's just penises," Strauss says of the censorship. Switching to another printer would've pushed production back six months, unacceptable for a book timed to publish with the presidential election. Strauss considered leaving the pages blank in protest, but it would've shifted the narrative too much. In the end, Strauss agreed to rearrange the existing photos and AMMO agreed to publish two editions. The second edition, with penises, will publish in about six months. Meanwhile, Strauss posted high-resolution versions on her blog for download and she plans to insert the censored prints guerilla-style at area bookstores. "It's so ridiculous ... They have to be in it. So too bad."
"I am both opposed to patriotism and a proud American. I watch America's Next Top Model and I love it. But why can't I have it all, and fold all the things that I am into my work? I can, and no one can tell me that I can't."
On the corner of McClellan and Fifth streets in South Philadelphia, a group of young boys pass the afternoon executing daredevil flips off a stack of old throwaway mattresses. A woman driving by, novice photographer Zoe Strauss, glimpses the small bodies somersaulting through the air. Startled, she pulls over, and winds up snapping seven or eight quick photographs.
PW's Music Issue 2014