Exhibitions: LaToya Ruby Frazier: A Haunted Capital

IN CONVERSATION

Our visitors respond to this 30-second video.

  • Your photographs are stunningly beautiful and haunting. At what age did you begin photographing? And where did you learn the gelatin silver developing technique? Do you work in other mediums? How did you creat the historical collages at the ends of the gallery? thank You!! impressive work you are young!

    — Amy Benerofe

    LaToya Ruby Frazier Artist replied

    Hello Amy, I began photographing when I was sixteen. I learned the gelatin silver developing and printing technique with my mentor Kathe Kowalski. Kathe taught me how to use the camera to speak to social issues that concerned me. The historical visual archive wall paper was created with Tomoko Nakano.

    This site specific wall paper is a visual archive of the history of Braddock and the dislocation of an invisible reality that my family has faced in the town. The imagery is a combination of my photographic work, found family photographs, and appropriated imagery from historical archives that highlight the steel mills in the Mon Valley region as well as Monongahela River, and the men and women that worked in the mills. This visual archive wall paper came from discovering that all African Americans were omitted from the 2008 book Braddock Allegheny County: (Images of America Pennsylvania). You will notice that the imagery is stratified in layers that point to environmental degradation due to industrial pollution, the demolition of U.P.M.C. Braddock Hospital, Labor protest, Health care protest, French and Indian War, the creation of Andrew Carnegie's steel, the collapse of the steel industry and my mother and I receiving an ion foot cleanse to detox all the metals in our bodies. The compression of all these histories conceal and smother my family's existence which only hovers in one row at eye level.

  • A friend of mine (from Boston, graduated from elite liberal arts college) is currently working in Detroit at a tech start up through Venture For America. He recently wrote an article in the huffpo titled something like "moving where it matters" in which he argues for ditching typical cities like NYC and San Francisco for "abandoned shitholes" like Detroit where ones impact can truly be felt. He advocates for gentrification, saying it is absolutely necessary.

    I however disagree with this, for precisely many of the themes your moving exhibtion brings up...namely the idea that these cities are empty, and that capitalist solutions are the only answers. Though at the same time, cities like Braddock or Detroit (or Cleveland, where I am from) do badly need new infrastructure, fresh and sustainable economies, and a solution to broken down worn down lots, buildings, and piled up waste.

    What sorts of remedies, or actions do you feel can be taken that are both socially responsible, community-based, environmentally sound? What role can art play in rejuvenating both the physical and emotional landscapes of these cities?

    Thank you for such a beautiful show and for having the courage to display vulnerability.

    Be well,
    Many thanks,
    Katherine

    — Katherine

    LaToya Ruby Frazier Artist replied

    Dear Katherine, Thank you so much for asking a question I am constantly thinking about. It is a tough question that has yet to be answered by any of the places you mention. The Richard Florida Creative Class theory is deeply troubling and flawed.
    We live in a society that constantly erases and ignores the poor and disenfranchised.
    I am interested in geographer and social theorist David Harvey's suggestion that the urban realities of American cities are of widespread polarization, homelessness, fragmentation and marginalization. There is a prejudice and superiority complex with this new migration of "urban pioneers" creating their own communities and place by oppressing the poor, the sick and the elderly.

    Selfishness has a destructive path. What good is it if mankind "revitalizes" Detroit, Cleveland or Braddock if there is no equality, no social reform or no social justice for the poor? I dream that one day I'll see the rebuilding of communities where long-time residents and marginalized citizens are acknowledged and included in reshaping their own homes and communities. I imagine a place where students use their education, skills, networks and culture-capital to uplift men and women that have been displaced to a second-class system of servitude instead of taking advantage and abusing them. What ever happened to teaching disenfranchised people how to sustain and build their own economy and community?

    If you want to "rebuild" or "revitalize" our rust-belt cities you must start with the quality of all men and women's lives. How about asking the people who have been the most affected and devastated by the economic downturn, what they want, how they envision the neighborhood around them? Until this society deals with race relations and color-blindness the class iniquity we face will never end.

  • Was your family always supportive of your decision to become an artist? And, was it difficult to get your family in front of the camera for such intimate photographs?

    — Deirdre

    LaToya Ruby Frazier Artist replied

    Dear Deidre, my grandmother was proactive in expanding my creative spiritual side.
    I always practiced my guitar and viola and would draw and paint at home. I focused most of my energy there because I wanted to escape the reality of my broken family. The only safe place I knew that no person or outside systemic force could take from me, was when I was in the space of creativity. The difficulty of making such intimate work came after the photographs existed outside of the moment we created them. Artists have to be accountable and responsible for the work they make. There will be times where you will be misunderstood.

  • Do you explain o your family the ideas behind your art before photographing? How do you see your work moving past your family as the subject? Really great work and thank you for sharing.

    — Jenny

    LaToya Ruby Frazier Artist replied

    Dear Jenny, thank you for your kind message. When I first started collaborating with my mother and grandmother I would print 11x14 prints or make contact sheets to take home and show them. Often my grandmother gave me clues by stating strong opinions that she believed I should photograph myself. My mother often refuted her images with a philosophical belief that who she was in the frame at that moment has nothing to do with who she was the moment after. I would let my mother pick out images she was interested in or allow her to set the terms on when to shoot. There of course were times of confusion, resentment and arguments between us once the photographs took a life of their own. To balance issues I would bring photography books home so we could look at them together. In particular we looked at the work of my mentor Doug Dubois and his mentor Larry Sultan.

    The subject of my work is already beyond my family. In a sense the subject of my work can also be late capitalism, working-class, discarded bodies, global economy, identity loss, and conceptual documentary practice.

  • I was very moved by your work. How have you been moved or transformed by being the photographer, and by sharing your work as an artist for others?

    — Michael

    LaToya Ruby Frazier Artist replied

    Hello Michael, thank you for your compliment and question. One way that I have been transformed is by using my photographic practice to confront the humiliation and dehumanization my family and I have faced. Each time I freeze a moment, process it and print it I purge myself of the sickness. Over the years I have found through giving lectures and artist talks that difference of race, class and gender can be transcended when you relate with strangers based on faith, hope and love. It matters that we all struggle to maintain family bonds and ourselves, especially when we are facing economic downturns.