"The Notion of Family" / LaToya Ruby Frazier's documentary photography

"The project is about a continuation of personal history, family history, and communal history. We’re coming out of the same geographic location. We span the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We have a particular way of carrying ourselves and the way that we think has been transmitted through the generations, from my grandmother to my mother to me ... I have collected all of the information that my mother and grandmother were willing to give, but there is a lot I don't know. The reason I obsess over photographing all of us is that I don’t have a family history. We didn’t have a family photo album. We didn’t talk about the past. My mother had difficult times, and maybe to protect me she just didn’t want to discuss it.”
- LaToya Ruby Frazier (2010 interview)

In October 2010, I attended a Nueva Luz Artist Talk co-sponsored by En Foco and Lucie Foundation featuring Graciela Iturbide and Martín Weber. While there, I picked up a copy of the Nueva Luz Photographic Journal featuring the work of Pittsburg native LaToya Ruby Frazier. Her Notion of Family series is an eight-year photo and video documentation of her family—in particular the mother/ daughter relationship and the intergenerational cycles within her household.

From her artist statement:

"My work has a deep concern for the mother/ daughter relationship. Relentlessly documenting encounters with Grandma Ruby (b. 1925), Mom (b. 1959) and myself (b. 1982) enables me to break unspoken intergenerational cycles. We are wrestling with internalized life experiences and perceptions of ourselves and familial personas developed by sociopolitical baggage. Grandma Ruby played the role of mother to me and JC, and caretaker to her father, Gramps. Being home consisted of routine checks on Gramps who screamed for help to be picked up off the floor or carried to the bathroom. If we were not tending to Gramps we sat in separate rooms. Family secrets, hidden history and constant silence defined our coexistence. […] Holiday visits home rupture the silent familial gaze in our experimental documentary series "A Mother to Hold." Through the first person point of view, the camera becomes a magnet attracting and repelling; the viewer has the access to experience and acknowledge our relationship without judgment."

I am going to refrain from too much commentary because the images are raw, layered, and constitutive of the viewer’s relationship with their family history; however, I will note that her use of mirrors and juxtaposition is subtle yet striking.

Like Frazier, I have very little family history that is documented. There are no photo albums of my family. Broken family ties and impromptu moves have meant scattered memories and indecipherable photographs. Through some Facebook mining, I found one photograph of my grandfather. He died when I was very young—maybe five years old. He was in the army and drove a big blue pickup truck. He would tell my brothers and I stories over vanilla wafers and cold milk. He was a tall man so I don’t remember his face much, just his pants. Always work pants. Before he died of stomach cancer, he took his Shahadah and became Muslim.

There is still so much I do not know about him. For this reason, I am obsessed with photographing and collecting photographs of black families at garage sales, etc. Frazier’s work resonates with me because it forces me to confront the need to recreate my family’s history -- to excavate, to be the historian.

Current Shows
Photographer Carla Williams has posted some tidbits about Frazier’s upcoming projects:

Currently on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem are 5 of my video works. This is the first exhibition dedicated to my videos. You have until Feb. 14th to enjoy the screening.

My new release of DETOX (Braddock UPMC) 2011 is now on view. (one)

Please join me for a live conversation with filmmaker Cauleen Smith moderated by curator of Video Studio Thomas Lax Thursday, Feb. 24th at 7pm at Studio Museum Harlem. (one)

Please join me for a live conversation about Planet of Slums with Omar Lopez Chahoud co-curator of Planet of Slums and Greg Lindquist one of the featured artist in Planet of Slums, Saturday, Feb. 5th, doors open at 6pm, conversation starts at 7pm. (one | two)

Aperture Foundation Green Cart Documentary Project will be view at the Museum of the City of New York mid March – mid July 2011 (one | two)

LaToya Ruby Frazier selected as one of French Vogue Selects 10 Artist to look for in 2011 (one | two)

{liberatormagazine.com exclusive feature}
by Kameelah Rasheed (Intern, The Liberator Magazine)

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