Crain’s Chicago Business 40 Under 40 2017
Story by Steven R. Strahler
Photo by Stephen J. Serio
LaToya Ruby Frazier used to photograph classmates on their high school bus outside Pittsburgh. Her subjects since have been less carefree: victims of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and her own extended working-class family.
Frazier shot to prominence—and to a TED fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship and MacArthur Foundation “genius” status—after the 2014 publication of “The Notion of Family,” her chronicle of three generations of Fraziers in Braddock, a down-and-out Pittsburgh suburb that was home to Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill and A&P’s original supermarket. Braddock’s population, 21,000 a century ago, is 2,000 and predominantly African-American. The largest employer, a hospital, closed in 2010.
Says Doug DuBois, an associate professor of art photography at New York’s Syracuse University, where Frazier earned an MFA, “This is a woman who photographed it with no apologies.”
Frazier’s ticket out was her eye and her camera. Her work is inspired by the photojournalism of Gordon Parks and Dorothea Lange and by the unnarrated documentaries of Albert and David Maysles. In 2016, Frazier told Flint’s tragedy through another three-generation family, spending five months on assignment for Elle magazine. “I’m advocating for their voice, visibility and credibility—this would be something Gordon (Parks) would do,” she says, while also admitting to the limitations of photography, exemplified by Lange’s iconic 1936 portrait “Migrant Mother”: “It’s a proliferated image that did not help the subject—she died destitute.”
Courtesy of: Crain’s Chicago Business