& ZOE STRAUSS:
THE GREAT DIVIDE
A mutual interest in America’s class,
race and political divisions propelled
“The Great Divide,” a collaboration between
documentary photographer Stacy Kranitz
and art photographer Zoe Strauss. Their
project about American economic decay and
disillusionment included the publication
of a 64-page zine and a public projection at
the LightField Festival of Photography in
Hudson, New York this past August.
Kranitz traveled in 2016 to Philadelphia,
where Strauss lives, to discuss the possibility
of collaboration. “I was looking at more rural
places, she’s looking at more urban places, but
what we felt was that there was a connection
between these two ‘others’—rural poor and
urban poor,” Kranitz explains.
When they were invited to show work at
the LightField Festival, they met for a second
time in early 2017 to figure out the details of
their project. Kranitz has been photographing
economically distressed Appalachian
communities and culture for years, while
Strauss has focused on the struggles of everyday
people in mostly urban areas. The original
plan for the festival was to exhibit a visual
conversation based on their existing work:
They would each respond to images presented
by the other with images from their archives.
“But Zoe shot new work two weeks before
the exhibition, and it was so brilliant, and it
changed the whole thing at the last minute.
That’s what collaboration does. I was like,
‘Oh, no! Why is she doing this?’ Then I was like,
‘This is amazing,’ and I had to respond to it.”
The new work Strauss photographed
was a bankruptcy sale of furniture and
fixtures at the Trump Taj Mahal casino and
hotel in Atlantic City. The images, about
the decay of Donald Trump’s empire, are a
metaphor for America’s broader economic
decay, and fast-fading illusions of prosperity.
Kranitz didn’t have time to shoot new
work, so she pulled from her archive of
images of Appalachia.
The two photographers ended up with a
“yes, and…” visual exchange: The connection
from one image to the next is subtle, and the
conversation moves quickly. For instance,
Kranitz answered a photo by Strauss of a
room full of hotel exercise equipment with a
photograph of a man hurling a chair at the door
of a mobile home somewhere in Appalachia.
He’s shirtless, with straining muscles.
In another pairing, a gaudy Taj Mahal
casino chandelier with a sale tag, shot from
below by Strauss, is followed by a photo
Kranitz shot of a woman in a sequined dress
trying on an ostentatious tiara backstage at
a pageant. Many of the images are related
by subject matter or meaning, but others are
related by color or visual pattern.
An essential part of the project, Kranitz
says, was the idea of reciprocity with the
disenfranchised people who are the subjects
of so many photographers. She and Strauss
decided to project their images rather than frame
them. They did that to save a lot of money, and
festival organizers agreed to donate the money
saved to two organizations, selected by the two
photographers, that work for economic justice.
“[Photographers] are really not thinking
through the way we publicly interact with
work about very deep disenfranchisement,”
Kranitz says. “It’s like: Let’s get our images
out there and [get] everybody loving
them, but it doesn’t do anything for the
communities you’re working with.”
Kranitz says she sought the collaboration
with Strauss in part because she wants
to converse with artists who are making
reciprocity with subjects a priority, and who
are finding new ways to display their work.
“That’s something I’m thinking about all the
time,” she says. “Built into [Zoe’s] process is
a very deep consideration of how her work is
put out into the world,”
From 2001 to 2010, Strauss mounted an
annual exhibition of her work under an I-95
overpass in South Philadelphia, and sold
photocopies of the images for $5. She has
displayed work on billboards in Philly
neighborhoods where she’s photographed,
and used Tumblr to display work and
carry on open dialogue with residents of
Homestead, PA, an economically distraught
community where she established a
storefront studio several years ago.
Strauss was unavailable for an interview.
Kranitz says she started pursuing
collaborations last year, after breaking up with
her gallery. “I wanted to find relationships—
artist-to-artist relationships—that were not
embedded in the commerce exchange,” she says.
She was also looking for a way to cope
with isolation she feels while traveling solo so
much of the time. “I’m a loner by nature,” she
says. “I just want to know that there are other
people who have struggled, too, and who have
been through this great crisis of trying to
understand what they’re doing.”
Kranitz hopes to collaborate again
with Strauss. Meanwhile, she has started
collaborating with an animator, and has in mind
other artists she’d like to work with. “What I get
is incredible inspiration from the exchange of
ideas,” Kranitz says, adding that the connections
with artists with struggles similar to her own
“just makes me feel more sane.”
ABOVE: An image of Appalachia from Stacy Kranitz’s archive. RIGHT: Zoe Strauss photographed a bankruptcy
sale at the Trump Taj Mahal. The artists share an interest in making sure their work is relevant to the
disenfranchised people who are their subjects, and created a zine and exhibition of their paired images.