LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s photo series The Notion of Family, in which the artist portrays herself and her family in her hometown in Pennsylvania, links the private with the political. After the closure of the steelworks—which had been the backbone of the city’s economy since the eighteen-seventies—followed shortly afterwards by the hospital, the region’s economic, social, and healthcare structures gradually collapsed, leaving the socially weakest families in a polluted environment. In formal terms, the series draws on the humanist American documentary photography of the nineteen-thirties, such as the work of Gordon Parks or Dorothea Lange. But whilst Frazier’s works demonstrate a strong formal connection to this visual tradition, they are not uncritical of it. Frazier’s credo— that photography is only documentary when it does not replace, outdo, or determine social activism—suggests that her work should always be seen as a performative political event. In this spirit, she actively includes her mother— and, before her death, her grandmother—in the artistic process. The work connects micro and macro levels: private, local, and national narratives are tied together in the stories of three women from different generations, uncovering a perspective that has been overlooked or forgotten by historians.