LaToya Ruby Frazier: A Haunted Capital
Combining elements of portraiture and social documentary, LaToya Ruby Frazier’s photographs portray her family and hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania, located just outside of Pittsburgh. Home to Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill, completed in 1875, Braddock is one of many towns across the nation affected by the relocation of manufacturing overseas. Though the mill is still operational, Braddock’s few remaining inhabitants, many of them African American, are struggling economically. Braddock has been characterized as a “ghost town,” but has also received attention for the gentrification efforts of its new mayor, a process some feel excludes longtime residents.
By focusing her lens primarily on her grandmother, her mother, and herself, Frazier illuminates how personal and community history intertwine. Each generation of her family represents a period in Braddock’s evolution, from early twentieth-century prosperity to governmental abandonment in the 1980s. In her photo-documentary series The Notion of Family (2002–), featured here, Frazier abandons the objective relationship between artist and subject, taking her place on both sides of the camera. The bodies of the Frazier women, all affected by illnesses related to Braddock’s industrial history, act as a metaphor for the town’s decay. Also included are photographs of the demolished local hospital, closed in 2010 despite the chronic illnesses endemic to Braddock’s residents. (Frazier’s work can also be seen in American Identities, on the fifth floor.)
Though intimate in scope, Frazier’s images draw attention to larger social issues pertaining to class and the environment. In using photography as a means of enacting change, she creates a space to express, in her own words, “I’m a human being and my life has value and I refuse to be erased.”
Frazier received a B.F.A. from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (2004) and an M.F.A. from Syracuse University (2007). She lives and works in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and New York City.
LaToya Ruby Frazier: A Haunted Capital was organized by Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum.
Generous support for this exhibition was provided by the Lambent Foundation and the FUNd.