LaToya Ruby Frazier
Award-winning Visual Artist and TED Fellow
Visual Artist and TED Fellow LaToya Ruby Frazier works in photography, video, and performance art to build visual archives that address industrialism, rustbelt revitalization, environmental justice, healthcare inequity, and family and communal history. Her first book The Notion of Family received the International Center for Photography Infinity Award. Frazier has received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. Her work has been exhibited widely in the US and internationally, with solo exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, Seattle Art Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
Born in Braddock, Pennsylvania, Frazier holds a BFA in applied media arts from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and an MFA in art photography from Syracuse University. She has studied under the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program and was the Guna S. Mundheim Fellow for visual arts at the American Academy in Berlin. She is an assistant professor of photography at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and has previously held academic and curatorial positions at Yale University School of Art, Rutgers University, and Syracuse University.
Art as Transformation: Using Photography for Social Change
Each day, we’re bombarded by images: on billboards, on screens, in schools and in our bedrooms. And these images, largely corporate in origin, carry power—power to shape, control, and constrain—even when they offer a fantasy, or an outright lie.
That’s why, as LaToya Ruby Frazier argues, photography is a battleground of representation. We cannot control the material circumstances of our birth, our families or our economic circumstances. But in order to change society—to seed real change and cultural transformation, especially for the marginalized and the forgotten—we must change the picture we have of ourselves and our communities.
In this talk, Frazier discusses how she has used photography to fight injustice—poverty, healthcare and gender inequality, environmental contamination, racism, and more—and create a more representative self-portrait. Drawing from her book The Notion of Family as well as from works of art by Gordon Parks, Ralph Ellison, August Sander, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Langston Hughes, she relates her conscious approach to photography, opens up more authentic ways to talk about family, inheritance, and place, and celebrates the inspirational, transformative power of images.
Socially Engaged: Public and Private Storytelling
In this keynote, LaToya Ruby Frazier discusses the value of collaboration—with individuals, families, and communities—to create a powerful platform for social change. Today, mass media dictates the dominant narrative, often silencing vulnerable communities and perspectives. Parallel realities and experiences can be found across poor and working-class America—urban decay, white flight, economic stagnation, crime, illness, and unraveling civic connections—and these can make for a bleak vision of the country. However, there are ways to engage marginalized groups and individuals to amplify their voices, and come together with renewed agency. With references to art, activism, and grassroots political action, this keynote inspires audiences to use digital technology and storytelling together in order to foster greater empathy, connection, and understanding.
The Notion of Family
In this, her first book, LaToya Ruby Frazier offers an incisive exploration of the legacy of racism and economic decline in America’s small towns, as embodied by her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. The work also considers the impact of that decline on the community and on her family, creating a statement both personal and truly political—an intervention in the histories and narratives of the region. Frazier has compellingly set her story of three generations—her Grandma Ruby, her mother, and herself—against larger questions of civic belonging and responsibility. The work documents her own struggles and interactions with family and the expectations of community, and includes the documentation of the demise of Braddock’s only hospital, reinforcing the idea that the history of a place is frequently written on the body as well as the landscape.
With The Notion of Family, Frazier knowingly acknowledges and expands upon the traditions of classic black-and-white documentary photography, enlisting the participation of her family—and her mother in particular. As Frazier says, her mother is “coauthor, artist, photographer, and subject. Our relationship primarily exists through a process of making images together. I see beauty in all her imperfections and abuse.” In the creation of these collaborative works, Frazier reinforces the idea of art and image-making as a transformative act, a means of resetting traditional power dynamics and narratives, both those of her family and those of the community at large.
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