LaToya Ruby Frazier's work in photography, video, performance and activism is fundamentally and critically concerned with issues of agency. Frazier focuses her attention on her hometown of Braddock, Penn., home to industrialist Andrew Carnegie's first steel mill, the Edgar Thomson Steel Works, established in 1872. Like many municipalities across the United States, Braddock has faced numerous crises in recent decades as it struggles to weather the country's shift from a manufacturing economy to an information economy. Many of Braddock's steel plants closed or drastically downsized between 1980 and 1985, and the number of steel industry-related jobs in the town plummeted from over 28,000 to less than 4,500.
The sudden rise of unemployment and under-employment resulted in economic instability that led many residents to abandon the area. Abandoned homes and businesses fell into disrepair or outright collapse, often taking neighboring structures down with them. Discriminatory 'redlining' practices (the practice of denying or charging more for basic services such as health care and banking) and the biases of the Reagan administration's War on Drugs further disenfranchised the remaining community. What was once a thriving metropolitan area with more than 20,000 residents is home today to less than 2,500 people.
LaToya Ruby Frazier: WITNESS features photographs, videos, digital works and a recent photolithograph series that speak to these conditions. Frazier documents Braddock's deterioration with an unflinching eye and a gift for communicating through documentary images that connects her to other socially engaged practitioners like American photographers Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks.
On view through Oct. 13.