inheritance Documentary Work on Braddock Pennsylvania (1974- 2012)
by LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony Buba
Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art Indianapolis, Indiana
This catalogue is published in conjunction with the
Inheritance: LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony
Copyright ÂŠ 2012 Indianapolis Museum
exhibition Inheritance: LaToya Ruby Frazier and
Buba is organized for iMOCA by guest curator
of Contemporary Art.
Tony Buba presented by the Indianapolis Museum
LaToya Ruby Frazier. This exhibition is made
of Contemporary Art (iMOCA), Indianapolis, Indi-
possible through the gracious support of the
ana from April 6 to May 19, 2012.
Efroymson Family Fund, the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, the Indiana Arts Commission, Penrod Foundation, and Hotbed Creative.
2 | inheritance: LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony Buba
All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher.
LaToya Ruby Frazier
Tony Buba was born and raised in Braddock, Pennsylvania. He earned his
LaToya Ruby Frazier was born and raised in Braddock, Pennsylvania. She
B.A. in Psychology from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in 1972 and
earned a BFA in applied media arts at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
M.F.A. in Film from Ohio University in 1976. Buba is one of the most unique
in 2004, and a MFA in art photography from Syracuse University in 2007.
voices working in American independent filmmaking today. With humor,
She recently completed the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent
compassion, and a complete dedication to the working-class heroes of his
Study Program in 2011. Her photographs and videos examine and re-define
hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania, Buba has created a body of work which
the impact of America’s industrial revolution. She uses the conventions of so-
documents the rise and fall of a steel town with unblinking accuracy. “David
cial documentary to probe and upend traditional narratives of urban growth
Lynch goes into neighborhoods and finds the germs and bugs beneath,” Buba
and the triumph of industry. Exposing the underbelly of corporate practices—
explained, “I go into neighborhoods and find the life.” Growing up in Brad-
rapid de-industrialization and outsourcing, environmental negligence, and
dock and witnessing its decline first hand has taught Buba that there are no
inner-city gentrification—Frazier’s work examines the socioeconomic crisis
quick fixes for the problems he examines. “I get a lot of attention in Brad-
and postmodern condition in her hometown Braddock PA.
dock,” Buba said, “but people who are doing community work day after day, keeping the community alive, get none.” Buba tries to correct this problem,
Her work has been shown in museums and galleries in New York City, includ-
one film at a time, by listening to those in his community who have important
ing P.S.1 MoMA Greater New York, the New Museum of Contemporary Art
stories to tell–and for Buba that means everybody.
Younger Than Jesus, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Living and Dreaming, the Museum of the City of New York, Moveable Feast and at the Andy Warhol
Buba has made over twenty films exploring working-class issues in and
Museum’s first Pittsburgh Biennial, Gertrude’s /Lot. Frazier’s work has been
around his hometown since 1974. Buba began his career with “The Brad-
exhibited internationally at the 2011 Incheon Women Artists’ Biennale in In-
dock Chronicles,” a dozen short documentary portraits of the stubborn signs
cheon Korea and the Michel Rein Galerie in Paris. Currently LaToya is a fea-
of life in a dying milltown. Buba’s work has been showcased in one-person
tured artist in the new Art 21 online documentary series New York Close Up.
shows at The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Carnegie Museum of Art and more than 100 museums and universities. His awards include fellowships from the NEA, AFI, and the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations.
Documentary Work on Braddock Pennsylvania (1974- 2012) | 3
inheritance : At first, LaToya is a little girl in a lovely dress, standing
may mean, on the grounds that that this story of shut-
hastily built wood frame homes for workers streaming
tall in a snapshot record of an Easter or Communion,
tered factories and abandoned rustbelt town has been
from all points. From then on, labor history records,
her image set between memorials of the two Scots-
told and seen before - even if we tried to leave them
Carnegie saw “all of Braddock as his creation.” 1 His
men – John Frazier and Andrew Carnegie –who made
there, to still their protest – we would never pull it off.
imperial presumption determined the life imposed on
Braddock. Then, grown up LaToya, strong and fearless,
Braddock’s people to this day.
glares fierce and unabashed amid crumbling details of
In no way “objective,” each artist is present in the work,
her family’s disintegration and collapse.
both a character and the author; not only is each de-
In the 1880s, Carnegie broke the union in the Edgar
terminedly collaborative in the creation process with
Thomson works; a four-month lockout forced work-
Tony, Fellini-esque umbrella aloft, fills out the tale; a
nearly everyone seen there, but also each knows that
ers to accept the grueling twelve-hour shift the union
crafty, poignant raconteur operating behind big inno-
“personal experience must be the backbone for social
had fought, and to take a sliding pay scale tied, not to
cent eyes, he weaves his exuberant iterations of human
documentary,” in LaToya’s words.
their skills and labor, but to Carnegie’s own profits. In
spirit and ingenuity in song, dance, and soliloquy.
1889, dedicating the first of his Free Libraries in BradThe armature of personal experience suspends and
dock (there would be thousands), Carnegie described
Artists and historians, they make no apologies for any
frames the larger story, a history of infinite importance.
a “gift” to his “fellow workmen,” a sign of partnership
inconvenience that may be caused by their happening
The artists in charge here - LaToya Ruby Frazier and
that expressed, he said, his “care for their well-being.” 2
to be living deeply human, profoundly creative lives
Tony Buba - live it, it makes them who they are.
But the words could not disguise the building’s mean-
amid the wreckage that power and greed have made of their beloved, ravaged Braddock, PA.
ing as a monument to his victory. “I would sooner enter Braddock became itself at the will of steel baron An-
a building built with the dirty silver Judas received for
drew Carnegie. In 1875 he built the Edgar Thomson
betraying Christ than enter a Carnegie Library,” said a
Even if we tried to tuck away their work into the over-
steel mill there, its buildings alone eventually cover-
stuffed category social documentary, whatever that
ing fifteen acres, the surrounding streets crowded with
4 | inheritance: LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony Buba
Documentary Work on Braddock Pennsylvania (1974- 2012)
by LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony Buba by Maren Stange, The Cooper Union, New York City The cruel facts of capitalism’s domination may have
Separated and distinguished by medium – not to men-
been less evident in the years when high production
tion gender, generation, and the social construct known
swelled Braddock’s population and businesses flour-
as race – these artists are united. In deep love and deep
ished. But even then profit-making decreed that the tox-
knowledge of their hometown/anytown Braddock, they
ins poisoning earth, air, and water could not be curbed,
are determined to show all in history and life that is un-
and that African Americans could not share equitably
fathomable, unimaginable, cruel and kind, strong and
the fruits gained by their labor.
weak. All that needs our attention and our strength.
In “Inheritance,” LaToya’s intricately conceived, in1
Paul Krause, The Battle for Homestead, 1880-1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press), 253.
in the micro-space between a mother and daughter,
Quoted in Krause, 254.
in an almost-empty room heavy with meaning, in the
tense, infinitely ponderable work plunges to the deep heart center of these matters, showing it glimpsed
scene through a door to nowhere. Tony’s stories loop and weave like celluloid itself. Entangling us in cinema
Maren Stange has taught American Studies and visual cul-
magic, he whisks us from delight and diversion – the
ture at The Cooper Union for many years. She is the author
blood! the gun! the pretty girl! - to bare life: The locked
of Symbols of Ideal Life: Social Documentary in America,
out steel worker again enumerates the criminal facts;
1890-1950; Bronzeville: Black Chicago in Pictures; and
the union leader departs the fruitless meeting for solace
Photography and the End of Segregation (forthcoming)
in a beer.
among other publications.
LaToya Ruby Frazier, Tony Buba, Ray Henderson
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5th Street Tony Buba 1978
Mom, Me and the Huxtables LaToya Ruby Frazier 2008
Betty’s Corner Cafe Tony Buba 1976
1980s Signage and a Light Bulb LaToya Ruby Frazier 2009
Betty’s Corner Cafe Tony Buba 1976
Grandma Ruby and UPMC Braddock LaToya Ruby Frazier 2007
Braddock Ave Tony Buba 1973
Grandma Ruby Wiping Gramps LaToya Ruby Frazier 2003
Braddock Ave Tony Buba 1973
Grandma Rubyâ€™s Stove Top LaToya Ruby Frazier 2009
Braddock Ave Tony Buba 1984
Home on Braddock Ave LaToya Ruby Frazier 2007
Exhibition Credits | 37
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Lightning Over Braddock photo taken by Joel Degrand 1987
Mom and Her Cat Ziggy on American Redcross LaToya Ruby Frazier 2005
No Pets Tony Buba 1991
Mom and Me in The Phase LaToya Ruby Frazier 2007
Sal & Tony Tony Buba 1987
Mr. Jim Kidd LaToya Ruby Frazier 2011
Struggles in Steel Tony Buba 1993
The Bottom LaToya Ruby Frazier 2009
Struggles in Steel Tony Buba 1994
The World Is Yours LaToya Ruby Frazier 2009
Sweet Sal Carulli Tony Buba 1986
U.S.S. Edgar Thomson Steel Plant (Braddock Avenue) LaToya Ruby Frazier 2009
Exhibition Credits | 39
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Voices From A Steeltown Tony Buba 1979
Gramps on His Bed LaToya Ruby Frazier 2002
Voices From A Steeltown Tony Buba 1979
Grandma Ruby and Me LaToya Ruby Frazier 2005
Wayne Gaines Audio Person Struggles in Steel photo taken by Curtis Reeves 1992
John Frazier, LaToya Frazier, Andrew Carnegie LaToya Ruby Frazier 2010
Documenting Our Homeland, Braddock PA
Q&A with Tony Buba
LaToya Ruby Frazier (LRF): Tony, during our talk at the Braddock Carnegie Library on April 16th 2012 you expressed that Struggles in Steel: A Story of African American Steel workers (1996)
of the time in documentaries. A person from the working class will say something, and then they have to cut to an academic to validate that position.
is the film you were proud to make. You also noted that viewers
We also let their stories flow in almost real time. Most of the people we
sometimes had a difficult time identifying with the African American
interviewed came from a rich oral tradition and a tradition of storytell-
workers that you interviewed. Can you talk about how you structured the film to uplift the workers voices and the challenges with addressing racial inequality in this film?
Tony Buba (TB): The idea to make the film Struggles In Steel was initiated by Ray Henderson. Ray and I were high school classmates and we remained friends through out the years. We started Struggles in the summer of 1990 with no money and only a Hi-8 camera. After our first week of interviews Ray and I were concerned that some of the men might be holding back what they were saying because we had a mixed crew. Ray made phone calls and asked the men if they would be more comfortable with an all-Black crew. They said it made no difference. All the interviewees were guarantees from Ray and me that we would not pull any punches. That summer we cut together a ten minute sample reel that we thought was very powerful and that this film had to be at least an hour long to tell the story correctly. We eventually raised about $250,000.00 to make the film. After cutting together the sample reel, Ray and I made some aesthetic decisions. One, we were not going to have the voices of the workers we interviewed validated by a white historian or academic. You see this all
ing. Sometimes it takes time for the stories to develop and we allowed the men and women in the film the time. Many people think the “talking head” is boring, but to Ray and me the “talking head” is only boring when the “talking head” has nothing to say. In Struggles, we also wanted a lot of close ups of faces. Because then, and even today you hardly see faces of African-Americans on TV, (except as a sidekick or spiritual advisor) especially working class African-Americans. We chose to use the close up as a visual landscape. After we put a rough cut together we showed the film to various educational groups. We were somewhat surprised by the responses. What usually happened is that the members of the audience would say they liked the film but in the Q&A the audience members would not directly address the issues of racism brought up in the film. They would revert to stories about the prejudices their grandparents and great-grandparents faced when working in the steel mill and how all workers suffered. They would put the discrimination of ethnic white workers (which might have lasted only one generation) on equal footing with the enduring overt racism that kept black workers from the high paying jobs in the mill. Ray and I would get upset and explain that the discrimination their great-grandparents or grandparents faced was nothing to what Black
Q&A with Tony Buba | 41
men and women in the film faced. After three or four such screenings
Though Braddock was theoretically an integrated community, most Af-
we realized that maybe there was a problem in the way Struggles In Steel
rican-Americans up until the mid-1950s lived in an area called the Bot-
was structured. Maybe something was missing.
tom. When Talbot Towers was built people had to move out of the Bot-
What was missing was the section on lynchings. At that time we did not have anything about lynching. We were concentrating on the steel mill
tom and move to other areas of Braddock. Then Braddock did become more integrated and that is when a lot of white people moved out.
stories. But when we put in the section about lynching in the film we
At that time in the Pittsburgh region and it still is a problem today, if you
never got the response about how it was the same and that we all were
were African-American with an education, there were no job opportuni-
ties. You did not stay in the Pittsburgh area period. Pittsburgh in the
1950’s and 1960’s was known as the Birmingham of the North.
I was born in 1982 after the closures of the steel mills. Can
you recall what life was like in Braddock when you were growing up? At what age did you start to become sensitive to working class conditions? What made you decide to start documenting your concerns as a filmmaker?
I did not go to college after high school and this was the best thing that could have happened. I got to hang around Braddock from 1962 to 1968. I worked various jobs that friends or relatives got me. This made me aware of how difficult it was if you were Black to get that first job. I did not know the term institutionalized racism at the time but that’s what
TB: I became sensitive to class issues when I was in high school. The
great steel strike of 1959 was the catalyst. The strike lasted 3 ½ months
I was also able to hang out on the street corner. The street corner was a
and almost everybody’s families who worked in the mill were affected.
public space and there were lots of, as we used to say, “very heavy” street
Families were dependent on handouts, free cheese and dried milk. My
corner conversations. This led to an excellent education. The voices on
family was lucky. My grandmother owned the house we lived in, so rent
the street corners of Braddock at that time were incredibly diverse. I got
was cheap. Others in the community were not so lucky. I remember my
to listen to tales from the prison educated, street educated and college
dad telling me that he was on strike for me and my brother, so that our
lives would be better. It wasn’t until I went to college that I got interested in filmmaking. I got Growing up in Braddock in the late 1950s and early 1960s was interest-
a work study job in the film unit that David Weinkauf ran. David was
ing and invigorating. Braddock was already in decline. Nothing similar
only three or four years older than me, he had just earned his Master’s
to the 1980s, but Braddock was in decline. The parkway that by-passed
Degree. He was comfortable being around an older student so he taught
Braddock was finished, shopping centers opened in the suburbs, the
me how to do audio.
housing stock that was poorly built and hastily thrown together for workers was collapsing, whites fled to the suburbs, blacks were red-
Then in my senior year, I did a slide show for a psychology class. I was
lined and not able to buy homes in the suburbs. Many African-Ameri-
too lazy to do a term paper. I turned this into a film and applied to gradu-
cans were stuck in poor housing stock, or were able to buy better hous-
ate schools. As an undergraduate I was introduced to foreign cinema,
ing in Braddock.
underground films, and lot of political documentaries being made by
42 | inheritance: LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony Buba
Third World Newsreel and other left leaning political groups. I thought
proach I use I am trying to create stories and images not usually seen on
this is what I want to do.
main stream media.
In graduate school I was still finding my way until I had a class that was
An example, if a documentary is done on a person with a disability,
supposed to be the history of film. However, all we did was look at home
that person has to have gone on and become the greatest blind piano
movies and a genre called diary movies. This inspired me to do films
player, a legless rock climber or a mathematical genius. For me I am
about Braddock and my family. Then when I met people from Appalshop
more interested in making a film on someone with a disability who just
in Whitesburg, KY and found out what they were doing. Appalshop was
gets out of bed, goes to work, and tries to exist in these times of extreme
documenting the people and customs of their region. Members of Ap-
palshop did not want their images totally controlled by media people from New York or Los Angeles. This made me more determined to document my hometown and my experiences.
In Lighting Over Braddock: A Rust bowl Fantasy (1988)
there is a scene where a young woman states that the story on the closure of Braddock’s steel mills could only be told by an outsider
Those everyday moments are what I find both real and surreal. In “Voices From A Steeltown” there is a scene with my uncle and my dad that I love. My dad and uncle have been so close for so long that they move in synch with each other. There is also a scene of group of children who showed us how to sneak into the abandoned high school and gave a tour of the building that was very moving.
because an insider’s point of view would be too provincial. Tony, as
In “Betty’s Corner Café” the men drinking in the bar are alcoholics but
an insider that has made over twenty documentaries on Braddock,
there is a dignity and warmth in how they interact with each other. This
how have you continued to counter depictions that the outside media
is who they are and they offer no apologies.
continuously imposes on us?
In “Struggles In Steel” a goal for Ray and me was for a young person to
I think outside media is always trying to redefine who we are ac-
cording to their needs. Their needs are to reach a large audience to either sale a product or to entertain. If that means reducing local residents to stereotypes or just ignore who they are, then so be it. The recent Levis ads are a great example; these spots don’t define who we are, they do worse
look at this film and gain a greater respect for the men they might see on the street corner and wonder what they did with their lives. In “Ode to a Steeltown” I asked residents of Braddock what was the poetry of Braddock. The answers were funny, surprising, and enlightening.
than that. Those ads tell us we don’t exist and our lives mean nothing. We
Also, over the years what else I have tried to do is re-interview people
need the new hip urban pioneer to show the “natives” how to live. We all
or cast people who have appeared in other films that I have made. This
saw how this worked out for Native Americans.
way audiences watch them age, watch me age and watch the community
For me, I am not selling a product and I am not doing everything for entertainment so I can take different approaches in making a documen-
age. We see a history, not just a one shot deal. Hopefully all of this tells a richer story.
tary. Sometimes I incorporate experimental techniques, other times narrative and other times I am straight forward but no matter what ap-
Q&A with Tony Buba | 43
LRF: From 1996 through 1999 you served as a Braddock Council LRF:
After my grandmother Ruby passed away in Braddock
member. Currently you are one of the leaders in activist group Save
U.P.M.C. Hospital I felt a loss of connection to my elders in the
Our Community Hospital (S.O.C.H). Can you talk about your role
community, then, I met you! I am very thankful you are in my life
as both an artist and activist? How has your activist work informed
now. Lately you refer to me as your fellow documentarian that you
your practice as a filmmaker?
believe is following in your footsteps. As I take up the 2012 Home-
TB: I have always been active politically even before I started making films but mostly as a participant. Later I was active as a participant or as a documentarian. But what has happened over the years is that I have been encouraged and to be honest sometimes forced to take more of leadership role. Two great Braddock community leaders, Evelyn Benzo and Ray Henderson, can be pretty persuasive. In some ways I am returning a favor to a community that has been good to me. But there are several caveats. At times I spend so much time being active politically that I get very little of my own work done. This does lead to me getting depressed. I think I will be sixty-nine years old in October, how many more productive years do I have? At other times I feel schizophrenic; I am not sure if I am doing something because I believe in it or because I think it would make a good film. I am always questioning myself about my motives and many times I am not sure who I am. To answer the second part of the question, if you are politically active, working for social justice or aware of social injustices, then this has to affect your work. You cannot sit back and do only lyrical or mainstream pieces. You need to figure out how to create pieces that can address social justice issues directly or ways to challenge people’s ways of seeing and the way they interpret images. Artists’ works do not have to be didactic but I don’t think they can be totally apolitical. If you are totally apolitical then you are being political. You are saying everything is fine.
44 | inheritance: LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony Buba
coming artist residency at the Braddock Andrew Carnegie Library, what would you like to see me accomplish? As a mentor do you have advice or expectations?
You are a fellow documentarian but you are not following in my
footsteps. You are creating your own path and making your own footsteps. You have a talent, a voice and a vision that is uniquely yours. Growing up in Braddock in the 1980s contributed to your insight to class and race relationships as it relates to the exploitative nature of capitalism. You are an eyewitness to the effects of Reganomics. The effects of Reganomics still cripple our communities today. What you are able to do is to use a medium to create images that tell this story with dignity and humanity. You are also able to have those images accessible to those who go to the Whitney or the Braddock Carnegie Library. This is not an easy task. I really can’t address the question of what I would like to see you accomplish as the Homecoming artist residency. If you do what you talked about to the audience at the library the other night, it will be a great residency. If you can get a few people both young and old to look at images and bring an understanding of how corporations use images to manipulate and control our lives, you will have accomplished a lot.
Published on May 25, 2012
A catalog from iMOCA's (www.indymoca.org) April-May 2012 exhibit. Executive director Shauta Marsh contacted Frazier to curate the most compr...