LaToya Ruby Frazier: Exposing Reality through a Different Lens

Have you ever met someone so passionate, devoted, and driven that you were instantly inspired to do better? Act better? Be better? On Thursday, July 18 I had the pleasure of listening to a talk given by renowned photographer and media artist, and most recent recipient of SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship, LaToya Ruby Frazier.

What is the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship?

The Knight/Lawrence Fellowship is awarded bi-annually to distinguished and celebrated early career black artists that “have their fingers on the pulse of contemporary black artistic practice.” Beyond being recognized for her extraordinary work, Frazier will be awarded $10,000 to further her artistic endeavors, and her work will also be featured in a solo exhibition in SAM’s Gwendolyn and Jacob Lawrence Gallery in December 2013. This is a show that you will not want to miss.

Unless you have experienced her artwork firsthand (in which case this would all be totally obvious), you’re probably wondering what makes LaToya Frazier’s work so eligible and influential over innumerable other candidates…

Born and raised in the industrial town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, Frazier grew up a witness and victim of irresponsible corporate citizenship, including “de-industrialization and outsourcing, environmental negligence, and inner-city gentrification (”  At the age of 17, she began to use photography as a means of documenting and exposing such practices, as well as building an archive that accurately reflected the city of Braddock and the damage done to its citizens.

In her presentation, LaToya Frazier pointed out how Braddock has been falsely represented throughout its history. Take, for example, this Levi’s Ad created in 2010, which uses Braddock as its poster child while neglecting to show any deterioration, harm, and pain that is the reality experienced by Frazier and many others. It is because of instances like this that Frazier was moved to act as a social critic and react against what she viewed as poor corporate stewardship. She exposes the push/pull of the balance between image and reality and the constant struggle of innocent bystanders wrestling against the harmful impact of various business practices.

What makes her work even more unique and fascinating is that she includes herself in many of her own photos, which is a very unusual but powerful tool. By inserting herself in history and subjecting herself to the scrutiny of portraiture, she makes the overall effect of the images much more poignant, personal, and real.

Frazier’s repertoire successfully combines aspects of art, social activism, and political awareness to relay a message that is powerful, inspiring, and yet readily accessible to a broad and diverse audience.

Don’t forget to visit SAM’s online calendar for the dates of LaToya Ruby Frazier’s show (TBD) and other events throughout the year!

-Caroline Sargent, Communications Intern

Momme Portrait Series (Shadow) 2008, Photo: LaToya Ruby Frazier