Documenting against erasure : deindustrialization and the camera in the work of LaToya Ruby Frazier
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Amid contemporary catastrophizing about industry and the practice of photography, American artist LaToya Ruby Frazier began her photographic series Notion of Family (2002 to present) as a means of documenting the effects of economic and environmental decline in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Located nine miles south of Pittsburgh and the site of Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill, the contemporary landscape of Braddock and the experience of its citizens mark a liminal place between the stark abandonment of completely deindustrialized sites and a continued battle with the environmental and social effects of surviving in industry’s wake. By photographing herself, her mother, her grandmother, and cousins and documenting the vicissitudes of her lived experience, Frazier uses the camera to resist real and insidious attempts at the erasure from the landscape and history of Braddock and from photographic discourse. Her work is a complex form of autobiography generated to be both representative of herself and to speak to a larger narrative about the impact of deindustrialization on marginalized communities. She uses the historical tension between absence and presence to make histories, realities and subjectivities present against the cultural and environmental forces striving to render them absent.