LaToya Ruby Frazier was born in 1982, who stands at the intersection of art and activism, using her lens to capture the nuances of social justice, racism, and environmental decay.
As a prominent American artist and professor of photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Frazier’s journey from her early life in Braddock, Pennsylvania, to receiving prestigious awards like the MacArthur Fellowship in 2015 is a testament to her commitment to storytelling through art.
|LaToya Ruby Frazier
|Date of Birth
|State of Origin
|Braddock, Pennsylvania, US
|Artist, Professor of Photography
|– Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (BFA)
– Syracuse University (MFA)
– Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program
– American Academy in Berlin (Guna S. Mundheim Fellow)
Early Life and Education
Growing up in Braddock, Pennsylvania, Frazier initiated her photographic exploration at the tender age of 16. Inspired by the traditions of social documentary set forth by iconic figures like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, she redefined this approach, envisioning documentation from within the community. Her work, often collaborative, seeks to illuminate the impact of systemic issues such as racism, deindustrialization, and environmental degradation on individuals, relationships, and spaces.
Entering college at just 17, Frazier studied photography under the mentorship of Kathe Kowalski, a pivotal figure introducing her to feminist theory, semiotics, and the political dimensions of photography. Graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in 2004 and a Master of Fine Arts from Syracuse University in 2007, Frazier’s educational journey laid the groundwork for her distinctive artistic approach. The Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in 2011 and the Guna S. Mundheim Fellowship for Visual Arts at the American Academy in Berlin further enriched her perspective.
Frazier’s artistic roots trace back to her early inclination towards drawing and painting. She attributes her high aspirations to her Grandma Ruby, who instilled in her a drive for excellence. Since 2009, Frazier has been a notable presence in major group exhibitions, including the New Museum’s The Generational Triennial, MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York: 2010,” and the Whitney Biennial in 2012. Her solo exhibition, “A Haunted Capital,” showcased at the Brooklyn Museum in 2013, marked a significant milestone in her career.
The Notion of Family and Beyond
In 2014, Frazier published her first book, “The Notion of Family,” a poignant exploration of personal spaces, private moments, and the larger narrative of racial and economic injustice in America.
The book received the International Center for Photography Infinity Award. Her work extends beyond her hometown, addressing contemporary issues like the Flint water crisis in projects such as “Flint is Family,” highlighting the daily lives of a family amidst the critical water conditions in Flint.
Awards And Recognitions
Frazier’s contributions have not gone unnoticed in the artistic community. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Creative Capital Award in 2012, the Guna S. Mundheim Fellowship in the Visual Arts in 2014, and the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2015. Speaking about the MacArthur Fellowship, Frazier expressed that the recognition served as validation for her work being a testament and a fight for social justice and cultural change.
Her accolades extend to being named a Guggenheim Fellow in Creative Arts in 2014, a TED2015 Fellow, and receiving the Gordon Parks Foundation/Steidl Book Prize in 2020. In 2021, she was honored with an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society, further solidifying her impact on the intersection of art and societal discourse.
The Essence of Frazier’s Work
Frazier’s photographic work revolves around intimate portraits of her family and personal spaces, juxtaposed with the harsh realities of racial and economic injustice in America. Informed by documentary practices from the turn of the last century, she delves into identities of place, race, and family. Her primary subjects include her Grandma Ruby, her mother, and herself, creating a narrative that unfolds against the backdrop of Braddock, Pennsylvania—a once-thriving steel town now grappling with postindustrial decline.
A Visual Historian of Inequality
A notable aspect of Frazier’s work is its raw honesty. She uses her art as a medium to initiate dialogues about class structure, history, and social responsibility. Her lens captures the crumbling landscape of Braddock, manifesting both environmental and infrastructural decay caused by postindustrial decline. In her own words, she sees herself as an artist and a citizen documenting and telling the story of working-class families facing significant changes, creating an essential archive for future generations.
Exhibitions and Impact
Frazier’s work has been featured in solo exhibitions across esteemed institutions like the Brooklyn Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Her impactful projects, such as “A Haunted Capital” and “Born by a River,” have left an indelible mark on the art world. In 2021, the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany hosted an exhibition, solidifying Frazier’s global influence.
Contributions to Group Exhibitions and Biennials
Her participation in major group exhibitions and biennials, such as the New Museum’s Generational Triennial and the Istanbul Biennial, showcases the universality of her themes. Frazier’s ability to capture the essence of societal shifts, as seen in her photo essay on Lordstown, Ohio, after the General Motors plant shutdown, was featured in the New York Times Magazine’s Money Issue in 2019.