Dec 8, 2008

Zoe in America

I got my copy of Zoe Strauss' America today. Looking at this book for the first time is painful. i found it impossible to be satisfied with the book with the first viewing, or should I say one viewing. I found myself going through pages in a flurry of fits and starts. Flipping to see the next photo, going back, stopping to savor, reading the spare and touching text, rereading, studying the pairings. In the end I couldn't win the battle with myself as to how to approach this book. The only answer was to devour it, over and over, and then let it settle.

What I'm left with is a feeling of newness and great satisfaction. This book simply throbs in my hands with delicate ferociousness. Zoe embodies the fearlessness that, I suspect, most photographers wishes they could summon. To look at Zoe's photographs is to think and feel contradictions, to be challenged, to see the beauty and pain of others and also of us all collectively. But, as a photographer, she also makes me love this medium even more, for what can be accomplished.

All images © Zoe Strauss


Ian MacLellan said...

Sounds intense! That last shot stands out so strongly for me.

ben huff said...

it is intense. Zoe hits the mark over and over - i suggest you (everyone) pick up a copy.

patcaribou said...

definitly a tour de force...
its fun to try to figure out the thought behind the pairings...

Federico said...


I have always loved that picture at the top. But besides the work itself, where there appears to be consensus among photographers, what is your opinion on the book per se: is it a good vehicle or does it lessen the impact of Zoe's work, do the pairings work well for you, is it a beautiful object or not?

These are not rhetorical questions: I simply don't live in the States and do not have the possibility to go to a bookstore and see for myself.

So far George LeChat (Hiding in plain sight) addresses this subject and expresses slight misgivings. Jeff Ladd (5b4) hasn't yet written about the book.

ben huff said...

i don't see that the book lessens Zoe's work at all, just the opposite. the edit, though lengthy, is strong.

i've seen pairings like this fail on so many occasions, but i think this is a rare occasion where the duos really contribute to the substance of the dialog.

it is a beautiful object in that it is successful. it's not over designed, and leans on the photography (as it should) to articulate Zoe's vision. i've seen many beautiful books this year where the design overshadows the photography - this is not one of those books.

i'll be interested to see what Jeff Ladd has to say, as i'm a consistently impressed with his writing.

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