AL UM NI P ROFI L E
FOC U S O N
INJUSTICE From a steel town’s demise to the Flint water crisis, her images By Christopher LaFuria tell stories of place, race and family
A crowd of disheartened autoworkers in ragged T-shirts join hands in prayer around a conference room table turned makeshift altar. An 8-year-old African-American girl squints out the window of her inner-city apartment with sanguine expectations, despite crippling poverty. Three generations of loved ones share stories of the glory days of the steel mills, despite the current state of hopelessness for their revival. LaToya Ruby Frazier – camera permanently affixed around her neck – seeks these stories not to draw sympathy from those who curiously thumb through her black-and-white photo albums. Rather, the Edinboro University graduate uses her camera to bring attention to social issues in her community and beyond. Despite the black and white coloration of these nuanced images, the stories behind the scars and the heartbreak highlight the full spectrum of human emotion.
THE BORO | SPRING 2019
Growing up in the industrial town of Braddock, Pa., just 9 miles east of Pittsburgh, Frazier does more than sympathize with these images. Because she lived these moments.
“ At the end of your life, you will have overcome – and have gone much further than where you began.” “I would come of age understanding what it meant to lose social services, to see jobs go overseas, and to see my community look like a war zone,” said Frazier, 37, who dual-majored in photography and graphic design at Edinboro. “I’m not ashamed that I come from living below the poverty line. I’m not ashamed, because we cannot control the circumstances that we’re born into.”
Raised by her grandmother, Ruby, in an environment the family considered much safer than her hometown, Frazier overcame poverty and community violence to graduate from a public high school and earn her degrees from Edinboro in 2004. For the majority of her 15-year professional career as a Chicago-based photographer, Frazier has hunted for inequalities that exist among cultural, racial and socioeconomic lines. Her collection of images showing the systemic racial and environmental decline that she witnessed in her hometown has brought her international fame as a chronicler of social justice. “We need longer sustained stories that reflect and tell us where the prejudices and blind spots are and continue to be in this culture and society,” she told the New York Times in 2014, following the publication of her monograph, “The Notion of Family” – winner of the 2015 Infinity Award for Best Publication by the International Center of Photography.