From ARCADE Issue 32.1. Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

Photography by LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier - The Notion of Family

Grandma Ruby and Me from the series: The Notion of Family, 2005

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die
’Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
—Sam Cooke

LaToya Ruby Frazier, the recipient of Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) 2013 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize, investigates issues of propaganda, politics and the importance of subjectivity with an emphasis on postmodern conditions, class and capitalism in her new solo exhibition, LaToya Ruby Frazier: Born by a River.

Frazier is a photographer and media artist whose practice is informed by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century modes of representation. Her work is an intimate look at her family, connecting their experiences to the history of her hometown, Braddock, Pennsylvania, and its drastic decline from one of America’s first steel-mill towns to the distressed municipality it is today. This exhibition at SAM includes photographs from two ever-growing bodies of work—those taken at the street level (The Notion of Family) and those taken from the sky above Braddock.

Latoya Ruby Frazier - Sixth Street

Home on Sixth Street and Washington Avenue from the series: The Notion of Family, 2009

LaToya Ruby Frazier  - Fifth Street Tavern

Fifth Street Tavern and UPMC Braddock Hospital on Braddock Avenue, 2011

LaToya Ruby Frazier - CITE

United States Steel Clairton Coke Works, C.I.T.E and Monongahela River, 2013

LaToya Ruby Frazier - The Bottom

Edgar Thomson Plant and The Bottom, 2013

LaToya Ruby Frazier - Monongahela River

Railroads and Shipping Containers on the Monongahela River, 2013

Frazier was born in 1982 in Braddock, which is located nine miles outside of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River. It is home to industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill, the Edgar Thomson Works, which is his last functioning mill in the Mon Valley region. Like Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange and Allan Sekula, Frazier uses the camera to call attention to complex and challenging conditions.

LaToya Ruby Frazier: Born by a River is on view at SAM through 22 June 2014.