Pulse: A&E: Local Talent: Zoe Strauss

In 2000, South Philly artist Zoe Strauss embarked on a 10-year project — she would spend the next decade photographing our city’s street-level reality. Five years in, Strauss, 35, has stumbled upon some exotic and sinister characters while wandering Philadelphia’s neighborhoods — shut-ins peering out of slouching rowhomes, addicts hooking under the El, Mummers pissing in the street. Whereas the voyeuristic hit-and-run slant of some street photographers can make their subjects seem like zoo animals, Strauss has an unusual ability to put people at ease, yielding intimate yet dignified portraits of strangers. “The only thing that makes me stop someone and ask to take their picture is intuition,” Strauss says. “I’m drawn to a person, but I don’t know why.”

The art world has begun to take notice. Strauss won a Pew Fellowship in 2005; she’ll appear in this year’s Whitney Biennial; and developer Peter Shaw recently bought 210 of her prints for $300 apiece. They now hang in the St. James apartment building on Washington Square. “It’s very heartening to me that my work is up there,” says Strauss. “The apartments are all Design Within Reach” — the chic furnishings company. “And then outside, it’s crackhouse central.”

Whitney Biennial, March 2nd to May 28th, Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, New York. 800-WHITNEY. See Strauss’s work at zoestrauss.com.