4. A Visual Master: LaToya Ruby Frazier
LaToya Ruby Frazier is a master storyteller and activist, but she communicates through powerful images, rather than words. A 2015 winner of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, Frazier, a photographer, is best known for her exploration of the long-term impact of racism and economic devastation that has touched so many of America’s small towns. She tells the story through compelling, astute and often heart-wrenching photographs of three generations of women in her family — Grandma Ruby, her mother and herself over three decades of their lives in the black community of Braddock, Pa., where Frazier grew up.
Through her photographs of Braddock, she chronicles the impact of disinvestment, years of environmental toxicity and government neglect on what was once a thriving steel mill town in her book The Notion of Family. In a 2011 series of photolithographs and a silkscreen print series titled the “Campaign for Braddock Hospital (Save Our Community Hospital),” Frazier draws a stark comparison between America’s romance with consumerism and the struggles of working people.
In an interview with the New York Times, Frazier, who is also a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said her work is “inspired by Gordon Parks’ idea of using the camera as a ‘weapon’ of choice against racism, intolerance and poverty.”
The book is considered the latest entry in the historical catalogue of groundbreaking photographic essays about poverty in America, such as James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men or Parks’ Moments Without Proper Names.
At 33, Frazier has completed a Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program and has been appointed Critic in Photography at the Yale University School of Art. In addition to her MacArthur Fellowship, she has received numerous grants and awards, including a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has been exhibited at major art institutions worldwide. We cannot wait to see what Frazier creates in the coming years. — Sheree Crute