Two Artists Document the Rise and Fall of Pittsburgh’s Steel Industry

Installation view of On the Making of Steel Genesis at the August Wilson Center (all images courtesy of Silver Eye Center for Photography, photos by Sean Carroll Photography)

December 31, 2017
by Emily Elizabeth Goodman

Sandra Gould Ford and LaToya Ruby Frazier reveal a side of the city that is rarely seen by outside observers or even many of its contemporary, white-collar locals.

PITTSBURGH — At its core, Pittsburgh is a steel town. Once describes as “hell with the lid off” due to the extreme pollution from the steel mills that lined the three rivers that come together in the city, Pittsburgh has changed drastically over the past 30 years. Now a city whose primary industries are in the tech and healthcare sectors, Pittsburgh is a leader in American innovation, in terms of sustainability and green engineering. So committed is the city to this new identity, that when President Trump opted out of the Paris Climate accords because, he claimed, he “was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Mayor Peduto immediately clapped back, affirming that “Pittsburgh is with Paris.”

Yet while the steel industry largely left town during the “steel crisis” of the late 1970s and 1980s, Pittsburgh’s identity is still shaped by its history as the Steel City. The legacy of steel and its impact on Southwestern Pennsylvania is the focus of On the Making of Steel Genesis, a collaborative exhibition between LaToya Ruby Frazier and Sandra Gould Ford at the August Wilson Center in downtown Pittsburgh. Comprised of new photographs by Frazier and older works by Ford, the exhibition weaves together Pittsburgh’s present and past, highlighting the transformation of the city and its people resulting from the steel industry’s dissolution. Although Frazier and Ford once lived in the same apartment complex in Braddock, Pennsylvania, they belong to different generations and their understandings of Pittsburgh’s relationship to steel are distinct.

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