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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 Š 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.

Tony buba

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

Ibid., 238.

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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exhibition credits




36 | inheritance: LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony Buba

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 Ruby’s Stove Top LaToya Ruby Frazier 2009


Braddock Ave Tony Buba 1984

Home on Braddock Ave LaToya Ruby Frazier 2007


Exhibition Credits | 37




38 | inheritance: LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony Buba

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




40 | inheritance: LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony Buba

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-

discriminated against.

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

it was.

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-

budget cuts.

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.

Inheritance: LaToya Ruby Frazier and Tony Buba  

A catalog from iMOCA's ( April-May 2012 exhibit. Executive director Shauta Marsh contacted Frazier to curate the most compr...

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