In 2012, the artist and photographer Zoe Strauss gave a talk to my seventh grade class at Andrew Jackson Elementary. Because she found my questions to be interesting and prescient, she asked to see me afterwards; there, we bonded over the last photograph taken of William McKinley before his assassination. Our friendship and partnership has continued unabated through the years, with a few lulls; but things started back up last August when I went over to her house after watching the solar eclipse.
Afterwards, we decided that we should work together on my capstone. She had recently received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and decided to use part of the grant money to construct and learning space/reading room/experimental classroom at SLA Beeber. She spent at least half of the school year setting up the room and getting to know the students, and then the other half of the year teaching a class there on Wednesdays. These classes were generally more freeform and experimental than usual high school classes, with Zoe or one of the group - called the 3212 (Three to Midnight, a reference the current “time” on the Doomsday Clock) Think Tank - starting with a discussion topic of interest and then running with it, with everyone eventually learning something in the end.
This was heavily inspired by the discussions she had with me, and the gathering of internet links useful for her project. Above all, it prizes the usefulness of a semi-random exchange of ideas, and is proof that ordinary people - even high school students in West Philadelphia - can create meaning for themselves and something else greater besides.
Dewey, Melvil. “A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging The Books and Pamphlets of a Library”. Dewey Decimal Classification: Centennial 1876-1976. Amherst, MA: 1876. Kingsport Press, Inc., Kingsport, TN: 1976. 44 pp.
At SLA Beeber, Zoe will be organizing both her own and school library books using the Dewey Decimal System/Classification, created by Melvil Dewey in 1876. It has since become standard in most American libraries. This source is a reprint of Dewey’s original pamphlet on the centennial of its publication. While the Dewey Decimal System is not the most straightforward kind of classification and has been dogged by ideological criticisms over the years, it is the most widely used of all library classification schemes in the United States, and knowledge of its workings is a useful life skill.
Strauss, Zoe. America. AMMO Books, Los Angeles, CA, and New York, NY: 7 November 2008. 192 pp.
This source was Zoe’s first major art book. It contains all of the important photos of her early years, with most dating from the early-to-mid 2000s. Most of the photographs dwell on the lives of the underprivileged and poor in America, often through portraits of working class individuals, ironic signs and words, and post-industrial vistas of factories and decaying neighborhoods. The main focus is on Philadelphia and environs, but other regions are covered, including the Southern Gulf Coast; Las Vegas, Nevada; West Virginia; and the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation in Washington state. It offers a searing look into the USA you don’t see in the tourist brochures and suburban sitcoms.
Strauss, Zoe, Stein, Sally, and Ambrose, Grace. Zoe Strauss: 10 Years. Philadelphia Museum Distribution, Philadelphia, PA: 28 February 2012. 270 pp.
This book was produced as the catalog to the special exhibition of the same name at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2012. It marked the tenth anniversary of her ad hoc exhibitions of photos under I-95 in South Philadelphia, which brought her to wider attention in the art world. Like America, some of these photos are disturbing or confrontational, and most center on the ravages of American capitalism - with a few detours to some foreign locals like Madrid, Spain. Both of these books are highly necessary to understanding Zoe’s work in the past and how it relates to her current efforts at SLA Beeber.