A distinct lens CoverArtist: Jane Strauss has the "eye" for capturing images
"The thing is, you have to keep your eyes open, and it's something that those of us who are autistic do. We notice little details."-Jane Strauss
Disability and inclusion
One of Jane Strauss' collections of photos has been published as a book with a companion discussion guide. "A Part or Apart? Disability and Inclusion in the Faith Community" started out as an exhibit of photographs to help her 14-year-old son, Rafi, understand appropriate behavior when going to synagogue, using a photography technique called "social story" to teach about social situations. Rafi has a brain anomaly and other physical and behavioral issues. The original exhibit grew into a book, adding more photos and brief "stories" of individuals with disabilities and the challenges they face fitting into faith communities. "Disability is no respecter of culture or belief," Strauss said. "Disabilities hit everybody and have to be dealt with."
"One of the characteristics of people on the Asperger/high-functioning autism spectrum is that we're collectors. If we have a fascination or a strong interest with something we will collect it," Jane Strauss explained.
When Strauss was diagnosed at age 52 as being on the autism spectrum-having a difference of neural development-it gave her a new perspective on her life. It explained why she often felt challenged in social situations, why she was driven to research things with a laser-focus, why she had a feeling of "socially muddling through" life. The diagnosis gave this self-described collector a different lens on her life.
An avid collector
"I've got way too many degrees," Strauss said. Her resume includes a B.A. in urban ecology from the University of Pennsylvania, an education degree from the University of Minnesota, a law degree and a master's degree in public administration from Hamline University. She has also pursued divinity and medical degrees.
"So, that's just one of my collections," Strauss said of the educational path that brought her from Pennsylvania, where she lived as a young person, to Minnesota. "I thought I had a call to the ministry but I found out it was a wrong number," she joked about the divinity program that initially brought her to Minnesota 36 years ago.
"Jane, you're going to have to find out something you do so well that people will have to deal with you on your terms," one of her mentors told her, when she spoke with him about her endless struggles of trying to guess what people wanted her to do in social situations and feeling like she could never quite figure it out. Those words stuck with her.
One of the things that Strauss discovered she does really well is photography. She credits her autism as the reason that she has the "eye" for capturing images. "I notice things that many people don't," she said.
Strauss first learned about photography and darkroom techniques as a teenager on the East Coast, but she had set that interest aside while pursuing her educational interests and starting a family. She has five children-three daughters and one son between the ages of 23 and 29, plus a son age 14.
In 2004, when heading out on road trips to Iowa with her partner, Rex, she decided to take along her digital camera to photograph old barns along the way. This opportunity was a turning point and renewed her interest in photography.
"I started out with the barns. I found out it was a little addictive, taking pictures," she said. Her website today holds many collections of images that she has captured, including old barns, city landmarks, landscapes, architectural details and classic car mascots.
By 2005, Strauss had started showing her photos, contacting coffee shops and galleries about putting her artwork on their walls. "Everything I take pictures of is strictly G-rated," she said of her artwork.
'Goddess of Speed'
Her family has a "case of an old-car hobby-which is kind of a collections thing," Strauss said. It was a natural for her to bring her camera along to their outings to "Back to the '50s" and other old car shows. In 2006, she started her serious work of capturing interesting images of car-hood ornaments. "A lot of people just look at the whole car and say 'gee that's nice.' The first thing I see is those mascots."
The photo "Goddess of Speed" was taken of a hood ornament on a classic Packard. A hot rod painted with a wonderful flame job was parked next to it. "You don't plan for it," Strauss said. "You have to have really sharp eyes-you can find wonderful things."
Jane Strauss is one of four women with artwork in this 25-person, invitational show of automotive art: What: Velocity 2: The Art of Motion Where: Hopkins Center for the Arts, 1111 Mainstreet, Hopkins When: June 30-Aug. 3, 2012, Mon.-Fri.: 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday: noon-5 p.m. Cost: Free FFI: www.hopkinsartscenter.com/velocity2 or 952-979-1100