January 18, 2018
By Antwaun Sargent
Since the age of 17—when she shot her first photograph, using a 35mm camera, of her mother at a bar in her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania—LaToya Ruby Frazier has been documenting the dignity, hope, and perseverance of working-class black life in the midst of crisis and decline. A new exhibition at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in Harlem weaves together three bodies of work (“The Notion of Family,” “Flint Is Family,” and “A Pilgrimage To Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum”) that engage with pressing social issues—from the fundamental need for clean water, to the way racism can inform economics, the environment, and healthcare. Frazier’s images of the American heartland’s black working class pay witness to deep devastation and tiny, pyrrhic triumphs.
Hanging on the red brick facade of the gallery is a triptych of three large-scale photographs taken last November by the MacArthur “Genius” grant-winning photographer and storyteller. They show a fence standing in a Flint, Michigan, field with three words spelled out in clear white lettering: “WATER IS LIFE.” The billboard-style installation, entitled A Message in Nestle Water Bottles from Shea Cobb, Amber Hasan, Macana Roxie and LaToya Ruby Frazier at Sussex Drive and West Pierson Road, Flint MI (2017–18) is a way of speaking of that small, post-industrial city’s ongoing water crisis.
“If you want to learn the history about a place, all you have to do is look at its inhabitants,” Frazier told Artsy, standing surrounded by her “Flint is Family” (2016–17) series inside the gallery. The images were shot on assignment for Elle magazine, and were inspired both by the artist’s college mentor, Kathe Kowalski—a firm believer in long-term social documentary work—and the mid-century reportage of Gordon Parks, namely his 1967 photo essay, “A Harlem Family.”
“Whenever I’m making a portrait,” says Frazier, and its subjects are “looking back at me, showing their dignity and pride and humanity, they are a marker on the timeline of history.”
Courtesy of: Artsy