The Uncanny Valley

Notes on art, culture and preservation

The story behind the mystery woman on that billboard at 10th and Reed

with one comment

If you’ve shopped recently at the South Philly Acme on Passyunk Ave. near 10th and Reed Streets, you may have noticed a nondescript billboard image of a bespectacled, heavy-jowled woman overlooking the intersection.

A closer look

If you’ve been left bemused by the image, wondering what commercial product is supposed to be sold here, then the ad campaign has paid off. The woman is, in fact, a real person. Her name is Antoinette Conti, and she’s your typical South Philly neighbor. And the neighbor who captured her in this picture is the local photographer Zoe Strauss — best known, until recently, for her DIY photo exhibits underneath the concrete no man’s land of I-95.

Throughout the city, 52 other images in Strauss’ collection are similarly being displayed without comment or explanation. You may also know the images at 15th and Vine, 9th and Spring Garden, and 62nd and Market, as well as Cottman and Brous in the Northeast — candid portraits of everyday people, or unorthodox perspectives on their lives and living spaces.

All of these displays are a carefully coordinated effort to repurpose commercial spaces towards non-commercial ends. The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s retrospective, “Zoe Strauss: Ten Years,” opened on January 14 and runs through April 22. Although it’s a big leap from under the expressway to inside the halls of the establishment, it is great to see a hometown artist, a champion of the poor and working classes, getting her dues and a wider audience. Watch this space for more on the retrospective itself.

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One Response

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  1. This is so interesting and a great idea!! Did you take the picture posted here? It looks so clear and really captures the surroundings as well!

    Catherine Mote

    January 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm


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