LaToya Ruby Frazier Receives 2015 MacArthur Award

LaToya Ruby Frazier (McArthur Foundation)Photographer/video artist LaToya Ruby Frazier is among the 2015 MacArthur Award Fellows. Much of her work takes the form of black-and-white photography which, she says, “documents the intersection of the steel industry, environmental pollution and the health care crisis” in her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania.

LaToya Ruby Frazier (MacArthur Foundation video)Frazier joins an eclectic host of African American visual artists and an arts administrator who have won the prestigious award — painters Kerry James Marshall and Mark Bradford, installation artists Kara Walker and Fred Wilson, photographers Carrie Mae Weems and Deborah Willis (who also is a photo historian), South Carolina sweetgrass basket maker Mary Jackson and Rick Lowe, director of Houston’s Project Row Houses (restored shotgun houses which serve as studios for visiting artists, art exhibition spaces and homes for single mothers).

LaToya Ruby Frazier (MacArthur Foundation video)On receiving the MacArthur Award, LaToya Ruby Frazier said it validates her work which is to show things that people “erase, avoid and pretend are not there.”

The MacArthur is the second major award that Frazier has received in 2015.  In April she received the International Center of Photography’s 2015 Infinity Award for her book of photographs, The Notion of Family (2014), a project which stemmed from her 2013 A Haunted Capital exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.

Frazier's rugged upbringing was detailed in an IRAAA+ report on her Infinity Award:

LaToya Ruby Frazier photo of Braddock (MacArthur Foundation video)Braddock Pennsylvania is on the eastern edge of the rust belt region that declined with the U.S. steel industry in the 1980s because of mismanagement and changes in the global economy.  As the industry was declining, crack cocaine use was on the rise.

The decline and rise collided head on in LaToya Ruby Frazier’s family and community. Buildings deteriorated, public services faltered, LaToya Ruby Frazier’s mom became addicted to smoking the rock and LaToya was raised by her grandmother while her mother was incarcerated.   

Frazier’s photographic art blossomed out of this emotional and physical devastation.  

Upon release from prison, Frazier’s mother became a collaborator in her daughter’s art and in one instance urged Ruby to aim her camera straight at her taking a hit off of the crack pipe. Like trailblazing artists, her mother was not bound by convention. She wanted her daughter to capture the hard truth of that moment with the pipe

LaToya Ruby Frazier photograph (from McArthur Foundation video)LaToya Ruby Frazier’s family migrated to Braddock from the south in the 1900s to work in the mills. Her great grandfather is another key figure in her work, one directly connected to the issues that she investigates and exposes.  

Frazier lived in the same  house with her “Gramps” who had been a crane operator in the factory that Andrew Carnegie founded in Braddock in 1875.  He had injuries which caused him a lot of pain later in life.  

Frazier's grandfather’s experience was an early influence in her interest in labor issues, particularly the human impact of collapse of the steel mills — "what happens to workers after their bodies are discarded." She made this observation in a video-taped McArthur Foundation interview.

LaToya Ruby Frazier (MacArthur Foundation)“There’s no recognition of the labor and the lives that were given to the factory and the town,” she explained.  Because she recognized their lack of recognition, she committed to honoring the lives by telling their stories and being a witness to their continuing struggle for better health care, employment and quality of life in this dying industrial town nine miles outside of Pittsburgh — Braddock, PA.

More About The Artist

LaToya Ruby Frazier received a B.F.A. (2004) from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and an M.F.A. (2007) from Syracuse University. She held artist residencies at the Lower Manhattan Culture Council (2009–2010) and the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program (2010–2011) and was the Guna S. Mundheim Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin (2013–2014) before assuming her current position as assistant professor in the Department of Photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Frazier’s work has appeared in numerous exhibitions, including solo shows at the Brooklyn Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston.