LaToya Ruby Frazier in Two Parts
THE NOTION OF FAMILY
SEPT 21 - NOV 18, 2017
SILVER EYE CENTER FOR PHOTOGRAPHY
4808 PENN AVENUE, PITTSBURGH, PA 15224
THURSDAY, SEPT 21, 6:00 - 8:00 PM
TUES, WED, FRI, 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM
THURS, 11:00 AM - 8:00 PM
SAT, 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM
ON THE MAKING OF STEEL GENESIS: SANDRA GOULD FORD
SEPT 22 - DEC 31, 2017
AUGUST WILSON CENTER
980 LIBERTY AVENUE, PITTSBURGH, PA 15222
OPENING RECEPTION + CULTURAL TRUST GALLERY CRAWL
FRIDAY, SEPT 22, 5:30 - 10:00 PM
WED, THURS, 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM
FRI, SAT, 11:00 AM - 8:00 PM
SUN, 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM
THE NOTION OF FAMILY
Silver Eye presents a selection of LaToya Ruby Frazier’s seminal series The Notion of Family at it’s new Penn Avenue gallery. Frazier’s images explore the painful effects of decades of industrial decline, poverty, and systemic racism in her hometown of Braddock, PA. A working class town situated on the bank of the Monongahela River, Braddock’s economy had been rooted in industry since Andrew Carnegie built the Edgar Thomson Steel Works in 1873. A child of the 80s and 90s, Frazier grew up when most of the steel industry had left the region and the War on Drugs decimated her community. Frazier came to use photography and art as a way to question inequality and reclaim history.
The Notion of Family elegantly shifts from images steeped in the humanist documentary traditions of artists like Gordon Parks and Walker Evans, to the conceptual and activist practices of artists like Martha Rosler and Allan Sekula. Frazier’s photographs artfully chronicle life in Braddock for over a decade, capturing its historic industrial beauty and its deterioration, such as with her elegiac images of the closure and destruction of the UPMC Braddock Hospital, the town's largest employer at the time.
The emotional anchors of this series are the deeply felt, intimate portraits of the artist, her mother, and her grandmother. These women represent three lifetimes in Braddock--each generation faced with its own set of dramatic changes in the culture and industry of the region. Through artful composition, these portraits poignantly contrast Frazier with her matriarchs, her family with portrayals of Black identity in the media, and their bodies with the town of Braddock. Frazier also photographs her family's living spaces, paying homage to relics of domestic life, and capturing a heartbreaking loss that mirrors the town outside.
ON THE MAKING OF STEEL GENESIS: SANDRA GOULD FORD
On the Making of Steel Genesis: Sandra Gould Ford is a collaborative exhibition that explores the work and life of artist Sandra Gould Ford, whom Frazier first met in 2015 at the Women and Girls Foundation’s Pittsburgh Conference. They soon realized they had a deep connection as Black women artists from Southwestern PA interested in working class issues. They discovered that they once lived in the same apartment building, the Talbot Towers in Braddock—Ford as a newlywed and Frazier as a newborn.
This significant exhibition brings together dozens of works from each artist in several mediums: photographs, writings, documents, and videos. Many of the prints have been made by Frazier as cyanotypes, a 19th century photographic process that renders images in shades of blue, referencing an architect's blueprint and the idea of “blue collar” work. Early cyanotypes of plants were used as scientific records by botanists, creating images that fell between document and artwork.
For this exhibition, Frazier made portraits of Ford and the sites of the former Pittsburgh Works Division of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, which ran along the north and south shores of the Monongahela River for about three and a half miles. These sensitive portraits show many facets of Ford: worker, writer, artist, and mother. Ford’s life experience and knowledge became a way for Frazier to understand what life was like in the mills and what life was like when legendary figures like August Wilson and Teenie Harris were capturing the diversity of Black life in Pittsburgh. Frazier’s breathtaking aerial views show how Pittsburgh has changed--with new condos, retail centers, and barren fields, replacing the factories.
Ford had worked as a clerk and secretary at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. Founded in 1852, J&L was one of the oldest and largest steel manufacturers in the region. From the late-70s until she was laid off in the mid-80s, Ford learned a tremendous amount about the processes of making steel, and the people who made it. At J&L, cameras were forbidden, however, Ford quietly photographed the blast furnaces, coke ovens, and ladles. Devoted to capturing the spirit of the workers, she diligently photographed inside the plant after it closed. Empathetic for the workers of J&L, Ford carefully photographed the messages they wrote on the plant walls, like “Goodbye Louie” and “Pensions Please.” She also interviewed workers and preserved hundreds of documents, including grievances, death and medical records, and the company magazines.
Ford continues to maintain this archive of photographs, documents, and writings as a history of the mill, a reflection on making steel, and her personal genesis. Excerpts from the archive are included in this exhibition. A renaissance woman, Ford is an artist of many mediums. Her early photographs show influences from W. Eugene Smith, Gordon Parks, and the precisionist paintings of the 1920s, celebrating industry. Later, her photographs depict the dramatic deterioration, and renewal of those lands, in the days and years after the mill closed. These images have an extraordinary eye for the details that were important to those who worked in the factory.
The vibrant conversations that arise from this collaboration speak to the nuances of this region and its history. Fascinated by alchemy, Ford uses the idea of changing lead to gold as a metaphor in her work: turning light and silver into photographs, turning base minerals into steel. Ford also saw a kind of alchemy in this collaboration between Frazier’s concern with conditions that limit humans and Ford’s interest in transcending those conditions.
It is fitting and intentional that this exhibition premier at the August Wilson Center. Much like Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle of plays, On the Making of Steel Genesis shows the Black experience in Pittsburgh and tells the story of ordinary people working to create something beautiful, meaningful, and true while facing great challenges and systemic injustice.
This exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation. The cyanotypes in this exhibition were created through the generous use of the production space at Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
ABOUT LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER
LaToya Ruby Frazier (b. 1982) works in photography, video, and performance in order to build visual archives that address industrialism, rustbelt revitalization, environmental justice, health care inequity, family, and communal history. She received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellows Award in 2015. Her work is exhibited widely in the U.S. and internationally, with notable solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Arts of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation (MAC’s); Brooklyn Museum; Seattle Art Museum; Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston); and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. In 2015, her first book The Notion of Family (Aperture, 2014) received the International Center for Photography Infinity Award. This fall, Frazier’s new catalogue about coal miners, And From the Coaltips a Tree Will Rise, will be published by MAC’s Grand-Hornu (The Museum of Contemporary Arts Belgium). Frazier is an Associate Professor in the Photography Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
ABOUT SANDRA GOULD FORD
Sandra Gould Ford is an award-winning author, artist, and accomplished educator who presents writing and arts experiences that encourage, refresh, enrich creative thinking, and inspire. Her first novel, Faraday's Popcorn Factory, was published by St. Martin's Press. Ford has won several writing awards, including the Nelson Algren and Writer's Digest. Ford has also received a Creative Writing Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and from The Pittsburgh Foundation, and she has been awarded a Dow Creativity Center Fellowship and residencies from the Ucross Foundation, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, Ragdale, Millay, and Dorland. Ford founded Shooting Star Productions, and the Shooting Star Review, a quarterly illustrated, literary magazine that was published for ten years. Ford’s photographs have been published in Talk Magazine and the New Pittsburgh Courier, and her writing has accompanied her photography in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Pittsburgh Press, and Pittsburgh Magazine. Ford holds a master's degree in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh.
Image credit: LaToya Ruby Frazier, Sandra Gould Ford sitting on the Bank of the Monongahela River in Braddock, PA, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York/Rome.