In the heartland, photographer documents industry’s creeping effect on health of town
Photographer and video artist LaToya Ruby Frazier spent a dozen years on a project documenting the effects of industry on Braddock, Pa., and its health, environment and people. But it was an easy investment of time to make; it’s her hometown.
In a town literally centered around a Carnegie steel mill, where socioeconomic power is just as literally arranged from top to bottom, Frazier and her family live in the neighborhood called “The Bottom.” From there, she has taken intimate shots of her family members as they live and die, and taken to the skies in a rented helicopter to capture the choking encroachment of new industry on people’s homes – including ominous shots of stark white barrels of waste stacked outside yard fencing like zombies outside a weakening barrier on “The Walking Dead.”
“Three hundred acres of sprawling industry are still expanding, block by block, taking over The Bottom,” Frazier told Wired’s Laura Mallonee in 2015. “And that’s dangerous, because the residents live next to that.”
Frazier, a Guggenheim Fellow in Creative Arts for 2014 (the year her monograph, “The Notion of Family,” was published), a MacArthur Fellow for 2015 and included on the “100+ Most Powerful Women of All Time” list by Ebony magazine this year, speaks at Lesley University on Wednesday, delivering its Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artist Lecture.
As Lesley describes the work of Frazier, now an assistant professor in the Department of Photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago:
Frazier began photographing her family and hometown at 16, revising the social documentary traditional of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange to imagine documentation from within and by the community, and collaboration between the photographer and her subjects. Inspired by Gordon Parks, who promoted the camera as a weapon for social justice, Frazier uses her tight focus to make apparent the impact of systemic problems, from racism to deindustrialization to environmental degradation, on individual bodies, relationships and spaces.