Art about town: Billboards show photos of changing neighborhoods

Posted filed under Photography, Shows, USA.

Zoe Strauss, ultimate street photographer, captures life’s beauty and struggles. The Art Museum in Philadelphia is featuring her work in a major show — and on billboards around town. reports: “Zoe Strauss, camera dangling from shoulder, stands in the Acme parking lot at the convergence of Passyunk Avenue, 10th and Reed Streets.

Her blue Sixers cap and olive-green parka blend right in. The orange Adidas? Not so much.

Surrounded by officials from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a chattering flock of reporters, Strauss is at the heart of an unlikely cluster for this part of town. But nothing seems to faze her.

Everyone in the group is looking up, at a billboard on the roof of Lime Organic Cleaners on the other side of Passyunk. Swarms of pigeons rise and swoop in an arc above the street.

“I cannot wait!” Strauss exclaims, as pigeons flutter back to criss-crossing utility lines.

Mike Coalision clambers up a ladder to the roof where the billboard stands, framing an image of a grass-covered car. He goes to work, and within moments the ad for a collision center is gone, replaced by the formidable bespectacled face of South Philly’s own Antoinette Conti, looking down at the gaggle of reporters and museum people and, of course, at Strauss, the photographer who created the portrait.

This unforgettable image, with its curves of chin and neck and flowered collar-line, is a key work featured in Strauss’s midcareer retrospective at the art museum, which opens Saturday for a run through April 22.

And still the 41-year-old Strauss has her eye glued to her camera. She’s never seen this image so big (12 by 25 feet) before, never experienced its total command.

“I’ve got to keep taking pictures of this guy putting it up because I’m so excited about it,” she says to no one in particular.

Coalision finishes his work and waves from the roof.

“She’s Antoinette Conti, make no mistake!” affirms Strauss.

For the next two months, the Conti billboard – the formal title of the photograph is La Corona – will peer over the Acme parking lot; she will then be replaced by the image of Fernando Trevino.

Conti is second-generation Italian-American; Trevino is first-generation Mexican-American. Both are South Philadelphians – next-door neighbors, in fact – and their presence atop Lime Organic Cleaners embodies for Strauss the neighborhood’s changing nature, its growing ability to accommodate difference, its expanding tolerance.

The images are also part of an unusual feature of the Art Museum show: It is moving way outside the walls of the museum. More than 50 billboards all over town will feature Strauss images. Clear Channel Communications donated 40 billboards, says Gary Turner, a Clear Channel senior account executive, and the museum rented several more.”

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