Photographer and video artist LaToya Ruby Frazier’s The Notion of Family series (2001–14) strikingly looks forward through the past. The project traces its origins to Frazier’s teen years growing up in the industrial suburb of Braddock, Pennsylvania, a once-thriving mill town just nine miles outside of Pittsburgh that drew many African Americans northward in the decades following the failures of Reconstruction. Braddock began experiencing rapid decline in the 1970s when American steel no longer dominated the global market. The Braddock that Frazier grew up in was characterized by many of the markers of industrial disintegration: widespread unemployment, decaying infrastructure, increased drug addiction, and palpable rage and despair about the collapse of the economy and local industry, among them. Frazier uses her photographic practice to document some of these developments and reckon with the implications and meanings of these changes in conditions for those suffering their consequences. Often central to and reflected in the artist’s work is a critique of narratives of progress. This article examines the ways The Notion of Family series bears witness to Black life experienced in real time while also demonstrating the impossibility of the dominant temporal order to account for Black living and being. Sharpening focus on several of the images of Frazier’s Grandma Ruby, featured in the series, The Notion of Family also examines how Frazier uses her photographic practice to refuse the kind of willful forgetting and violent obfuscating that insists upon rendering invisible or fungible Black people who have vitalized communities like Braddock for generations.
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Research Article| November 01 2022
Black Life and Photographic Time: LaToya Ruby Frazier’s Grandma Ruby
Isaiah Matthew Wooden
Nka (2022) 2022 (51): 86–97.
Isaiah Matthew Wooden; Black Life and Photographic Time: LaToya Ruby Frazier’s Grandma Ruby. Nka 1 November 2022; 2022 (51): 86–97. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-10127195
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