LaToya Ruby Frazier Turns Her Lens on Family and Inequality in Industrial America

LaToya Ruby Frazier is one of seven artists featured in A Family Affair, USFCAM’s exhibition opening August 24. For over twelve years, she has created collaborative portraits, landscapes and still life photographs intertwined with the narrative of her family and community, as well as the daily challenges they face, in her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania.

By documenting various aspects of Braddock, such as the impact of the steel industry on the town’s African-American community, Frazier brings to light the struggles of a community that mass media has otherwise ignored. Speaking at the TED2015 conference, Frazier revealed what injured her community the most: Eroded infrastructure coupled with local, state, and federal abandonment as a result of Braddock’s obsolete steel mills.

Frazier speaks at TED2015, March 2015 in Vancouver, Canada

Frazier retaliates against historic erasure of African-American experiences and socioeconomic inequality by reclaiming such narratives through her photographs.

The subjects of Frazier’s photographs often bear the scars of their surroundings, whether physical marks on a human being, a disoriented room, or a polluted landscape. Working on both micro and macro levels, she uses her photographs to reveal undiscovered histories and issues, frequently pointing out injustices involved. The photographs do not romanticize her subjects. Instead, Frazier’s images underline the struggles of her subjects by capturing the dignity and humanity within.

The most frequent subjects of Frazier’s black-and-white photographs are herself, her mother and her grandmother, Ruby. Frazier grew up in her grandmother’s house, and her works tell the story of the relationships inside—her family’s tale of love, isolation and poignancy.

lrf_Momme 2008
LaToya Ruby Frazier. Momme, 2008. gelatin silver print. 20 x 24 inches.
Courtesy of the artist and Michel Rein, Paris/Brussels.

A portion of this familial story can be seen in Frazier’s Momme (2008). The photograph depicts her mother’s dignified profile while Frazier stares straight at her from the side. In this way, their two bodies overlap, coming together to form the center subject. Their somber expressions, combined with the mother’s closed eyes in contrast with Frazier’s striking stare, speak of a quiet tenderness between mother and daughter. This is a human tenderness that appears throughout all of Frazier’s works.

Momme will be among a selection of Frazier’s works included in the upcoming exhibition A Family Affair, August 24-December 12, 2015, at USFCAM. Other artists in the exhibition include Renee Cox, Kalup Linzy, Jacolby Satterwhite, Hank Willis Thomas, Corine Vermeulen and Deborah Willis.

Kylene Harrington
English Undergraduate
USFCAM Intern Writer

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