How Bruce Springsteen influenced Philadelphia photographer Zoe Strauss

Shades of "E Street Shuffle": Strauss' photo "Wench with Flag in Front of Dolphin."
Shades of "E Street Shuffle": Strauss' photo "Wench with Flag in Front of Dolphin." (   ZOE STRAUSS)
Posted: February 17, 2012

ZOE STRAUSS is known as Philadelphia's pre-eminent street photographer, complete with a show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that runs through April 22. But she's also a major Bruce Springsteen fan. In fact, on March 4, Strauss will discuss the influence of Springsteen's music on her own work and life at the museum.

The connection between Strauss and Springsteen makes sense. Both (especially early Springsteen) champion the working class, shining a light on communities that are not in the forefront of the American conscience.

Take her photo "Wench with Flag in Front of Dolphin," featuring a Mummer joyously dancing and waving a flag outside the famed, grimy go-go bar at Broad and Tasker streets. Can't you just hear "The E Street Shuffle" soundtracking his frozen steps?

If Strauss were Springsteen, she surmised in a recent interview, she would be at the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" phase of her career, referencing the harder-edged 1978 follow-up to Springsteen's "Born to Run."

"We don't have a ton of money," Strauss said, laughing. "At this point, critical acclaim matters a lot, but sometimes that's just interest and discussion. There's no separation from environment yet, and that makes the difference."

While Springsteen became removed from his subject matter as his fame skyrocketed, Strauss still lives in the neighborhood where many of her photos are taken.

Strauss also chose "Darkness" because she sees that as the place where Springsteen started to look at his career from a longevity standpoint.

She sees that parallel in her own work. "My career is very structured along the idea of longevity of audience," Strauss said. "It's about cultivating an audience and wanting them to be a part of the project."

I-95, her decadelong series of art installations underneath an overpass in South Philly, was her "Greetings from Asbury, N.J." through "Born to Run" phase, she said. She was developing as an artist, though she had hits along the way, such as her inclusion in the 2006 Whitney Biennial.

But now Strauss is ready to evolve. It's just as "Darkness on the Edge of Town" demonstrated Springsteen's transformation from a boy excited about the idea of an escape to a man who understood that escapism doesn't solve every problem.

"The idea of escape isn't as realistic for many different reasons," Strauss said about Springsteen's work. "For myself, as I moved into middle age, there was this whole shift of things I hadn't anticipated. There was this whole balance of both having great joy and missing parts that will never come back. . . . All of these joyous moments are tinged with a little bit of sadness and all of these sad moments are tinged with a little bit of joy and reverie.

"It's this constant movement within the self that I'm interested in, and how we communicate it to each other."


Zoe Strauss discusses her Springsteen influences at 2:30 p.m. March 4 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, $2.50-$3.50, 215-235-7469, philamuseum.org.

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