LaToya Ruby FrazierAGE: 30
BORN: Braddock, Pennsylvania
RESIDES: New Brunswick, New Jersey, and New York City
EDUCATION: Edinboro University; Syracuse University
AWARDS: Creative Capital grant; Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award; S.J. Wallace Truman Fund Award; Center for Photography at Woodstock Fellowship; Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation grant; Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, residency; College Art Association Professional-Development Fellowship
EXHIBITIONS: New Museum, New York City; MoMA PS1, Long Island City, New York; Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, Milwaukee; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City; Pittsburgh Biennial
KEY LESSONS LEARNED: "Study with the photographers you really admire. Choose the program that best suits your interests and focus. I could not have any of my achievements without the education I received while attending Syracuse University."
Many in the professional photo community were
introduced to LaToya Ruby Frazier's brand of photography
and activism at last year's LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph.
Frazier spoke with passion about how her hometown,
Braddock, Pennsylvania, has been portrayed as a model of
post-industrial revival in the media and a Levi's ad campaign
while in reality it still copes with job loss and the closure of
a local hospital. In fact, Frazier has been exploring issues
of family and community through a combination of self-
portraiture and documentary work since she was 17 years old.
As an undergraduate, she hesitated to show the images she had taken of her mother and grandmother, until her teacher, photographer Kathe Kowalski, encouraged her. "Contrary to popular belief," Frazier says, photographing her family isn't easy. "The biggest challenge is contextualizing the work in a way that both my family and the audience will understand that, although my work is personal, my family and I happen to be a spring board for talking about larger social issues such as class, healthcare and environmental injustice in America." Kowalski spurred Frazier to submit her work to competitions and juried shows. Also, Frazier says, "She instilled in me the value and commitment to honor the lives of under-recognized individuals in our society."
Frazier's path has been marked by constant questioning, learning and teaching. While a student in Syracuse University's Master of Fine Arts program, "I worked mixing chemistry in the darkrooms, I assisted photographers, scanned and cleaned their negatives. I taught at community centers, middle school, high school and at the university level," she says. "I just wanted to learn as much as I could to understand what I had the strongest passion for and also to learn who I am not." At Syracuse she met mentors Carrie Mae Weems, who "taught me how to use photographs to challenge social systems and history," Doug Dubois and Laura Heyman, who introduced her to curators and photo editors. She also used the resources at Light Work, where she taught workshops.
She landed an artist-in-residency at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and in 2009 when the New Museum mounted a show on emerging artists, several people recommended Frazier. Further exhibits followed. This spring she will be showing new work at the Whitney Biennial.
—Holly Stuart Hughes