For LaToya Ruby Frazier, art is a weapon—a catalyst for social justice. Her photographs and videos document today’s America: post-industrial cities riven by poverty, racism, healthcare inequality, and environmental toxicity. Bridging the personal with the social, her gorgeous work amplifies the voices of the vulnerable and transforms our sense of place and self.
“With her camera, Frazier has captured the years-long effects of racism and economic erosion in small towns, such as her native Braddock, Penn. Frazier … has an all-seeing eye that informed her award-winning 2015 debut, The Notion of Family.”— Ebony
Chosen by Ebony as one of their 100+ Most Powerful Women of All Time, 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 MacArthur “Genius” 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. Her most recent exhibit, “On the Making of Steel Genesis,” is a profile of artist and archivist of black working-class life, Sarah Gould Ford. In The Atlantic’s Martin Luther King Jr. issue, Frazier utilized a helicopter and aerial photography techniques to capture how Memphis, Baltimore and Chicago have responded to decades of oppression.
“Frazier’s furious realism seeks to recapture injustice, love, and moral outrage as subjects fit for the most urgent art of our time.”— The Village Voice
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 Associate Professor, 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 Frederick Douglass, 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.