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South Philly (Mattress Flip Front)
South Philly (Mattress Flip Front), 2001 (negative); 2003 (print)
Zoe Strauss, American
Chromogenic print
Image: 6 7/8 x 10 1/8 inches (17.5 x 25.7 cm) Sheet: 8 x 10 3/8 inches (20.3 x 26.4 cm)
Purchased with funds contributed by Theodore T. Newbold and Helen Cunningham, 2003
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South Philly (Mattress Flip Front)

This young boy is in the middle of a daring flip over a pile of worn mattresses. His arms swing out to his sides, helping him to complete his rotation. The boy’s perfectly vertical body and round face create the shape of an exclamation point that hovers over the blue horizontal line of the top mattress. How did he jump so high and where will he land? Will the mattresses cushion his landing, or will he soar right over them?

In the background, another boy in a white T-shirt looks on. He holds his hand up to his mouth, perhaps reacting to his friend’s acrobatic moves. The pavement, sidewalk, and red brick building with graffiti tell us that this scene takes place outside on the street or perhaps in an empty lot. The mattresses are missing some of their stuffing and the pile has shifted to the right, suggesting this game may have been going on for a while.

Zoe Strauss, the artist who took this picture, believes that “an important role of art is to mirror what is happening in the world.”1 She often photographs what is most familiar to her: the people and places in her neighborhood in South Philadelphia. This particular photograph is part of her larger project to document life in the city. During the ten years that she worked on the project, Strauss held annual outdoor public exhibitions of over two hundred of the photographs. Each of these pictures tells a story, and together they present an intimate narrative of Philadelphia.

Let’s Look

  • What is going on in this picture?
  • Describe the setting of this photograph—time of day, season, and location.

Let’s Look Again

  • How do you think each boy is feeling?
  • Where do you think the boy in the air will land? Then what will happen?

1. "Interview with Zoe Strauss, photographer in the Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night,” Clare Hurley, June 2, 2006, accessed March 19, 2010,

This object is included in Looking to Write, Writing to Look, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and is generously supported by the Sherman Fairchild Foundation Inc.

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