The Notion of FamilyPhotographs by LaToya Ruby Frazier
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In this, her first book, LaToya Ruby Frazier offers an incisive exploration of the legacy of racism and economic decline in America’s small towns, as embodied by her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. The work also considers the impact of that decline on the community and on her family, creating a statement both personal and truly political—an intervention in the histories and narratives of the region. Frazier has compellingly set her story of three generations—her Grandma Ruby, her mother, and herself—against larger questions of civic belonging and responsibility. The work documents her own struggles and interactions with family and the expectations of community, and includes the documentation of the demise of Braddock’s only hospital, reinforcing the idea that the history of a place is frequently written on the body as well as the landscape. With The Notion of Family, Frazier knowingly acknowledges and expands upon the traditions of classic black-and-white documentary photography, enlisting the participation of her family—and her mother in particular. As Frazier says, her mother is “coauthor, artist, photographer, and subject. Our relationship primarily exists through a process of making images together. I see beauty in all her imperfections and abuse.” In the creation of these collaborative works, Frazier reinforces the idea of art and image-making as a transformative act, a means of resetting traditional power dynamics and narratives, both those of her family and those of the community at large.
LaToya Ruby Frazier (born in Braddock, Pennsylvania, 1982) received her BFA in photography and graphic design in 2004 at Edinboro University, Pennsylvania, and her MFA in 2007 from the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, New York. In 2011, Frazier completed the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program and shortly thereafter was appointed Critic in Photography at the Yale University School of Art. She has received numerous grants and awards, including a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has been included in exhibitions at major institutions worldwide.
Dawoud Bey (interview) is well-known for his own work as a photographer and has been featured in numerous exhibitions, including a mid-career survey at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in 1995. He is a professor of art and a Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago.
Laura Wexler (essay) is professor and co-chair of the Women’s Faculty Forum at Yale University, as well as the founder and director of the Photographic Memory Workshop at Yale. Her books include the award-winning Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U. S. Imperialism (2000).
Dennis C. Dickerson (essay) is the James M. Lawson, Jr. Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of several titles focusing on American labor history and the civil rights movement, including Out of the Crucible: Black Steel Workers in Western Pennsylvania, 1875–1980 (1986).