Born in 1970 in Philadelphia and the first member of her immediate family to graduate from high school, Strauss was given a camera for her 30th birthday and started taking pictures of life in the city’s marginal neighborhoods. She is a photo-based installation artist who uses Philadelphia as a primary setting and subject for her work. Out in the streets, Strauss typically photographs whatever strikes her interest, paying particular attention to the overlooked (or purposefully avoided) details of life.
In 1995, she started the Philadelphia Public Art Project, a one-woman organization whose mission is to give the citizens of Philadelphia access to art in their everyday lives. Strauss now calls the Philadelphia Public Art Project an “epic narrative” of her own neighborhood. “When I started shooting, it was as if somewhere hidden in my head I had been waiting for this,” she says.
Between 2001 and 2011, Strauss’s photographic work culminated in a yearly “Under I-95” show which took place beneath the Interstate in South Philadelphia. She displayed her photographs on concrete pillars under the highway where she sold photocopied prints of her work for $5 each.
Strauss received a Seedling Award in photography from the Leeway Foundation in 2002, a Pew Fellowship in 2005, and in 2006 her work was included in the Whitney Biennial; she also mounted a solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. In 2007 Strauss was named a 2007 USA Gund Fellow and granted $50,000 by United States Artists, an arts advocacy foundation dedicated to the support and promotion of America's top living artists.