Combining various photographic forms, artist Latoya Ruby Frazier uses the camera and her story to shed light; creating dialogue and painting a monumental picture. The Notion of Family, the artist’s first monograph, is proof of the artist’s ability to validate her heritage and experience. Giving visibility to at least three generations without a voice, this dynamic multi layered body of work serves as a document of familial relationship, self, economic decline, and how they all interrelate. Tying all elements together locking them in time and space is Braddock, NJ, serving as a dilapidated backdrop for all imagery included in this body of work.
Self-portrait, in conceptual and documentary styles of photography play a crucial role in this work. It’s through the juxtaposition of self-portraits combined with text, images of dilapidated buildings, and domesticated spaces where we find documentation and discover an expansive narrative. The artist uses images of her grandmother and Braddock to suggest the thriving days of the city which is now in a state of decline. The transition from thriving city to one in decline is represented by her mother’s influence in the project. Text found on page 47 speaks to the experience of her familial relationship as it relates to the environment. “Emotional fatigue has erected barriers around us”
Possibly the best example of how the artist is able to explore the complex subject matter and tie them together using the juxtaposition of such imagery can be found on pages 106 and 107. On page 106 the reader visually encounters a rear facing image of the artist herself. Clothed in a hospital gown, the artist sits. Her back and the wires that connect her to medical devices are illuminated by the contrast between the foreground and background, which is a dark, foreboding hospital room. The wires mimic the wires in disarray from a dilapidated abandoned hospital building found on page 107.
Frazier seeks to bravely explore and understand where she herself stands and the spaces in between. Through this exploration she is able to open up a dialogue with at least three generations. Like the great photographer Gordon Parks, she uses her camera as a weapon giving visibility to her heritage and beyond. She creates documentation as a basis for an expansive dialogue about the economic decline of the city where she grew up.