Working in video, photography and performance, LaToya Ruby Frazier has been documenting the dignity, hope, and perseverance of working-class black life in the midst of crisis and decline. Through her work, she builds visual archives that address industrialism, rustbelt revitalization, environmental justice, healthcare inequity, family and communal history.
The latest body of work by this acclaimed photographer and MacArthur Fellow is currently on view at the Frost Art Museum FIU. Titled LaToya Ruby Frazier: Flint Is Family, the exhibition features work which explores the Flint water crisis and the tragic and heartbreaking effects on families and residents.
Informed by documentary practices from the turn of the last century, LaToya Ruby Frazier captures social inequality and historical change in the postindustrial age. Witnessing the daily lives of the residents of Flint, the photographer documented the consequences of one of the most devastating man-made ecological crises in U.S. history.
Living for five months with women from three generations – the poet Shea Cobb, Shea’s mother, Renée Cobb, and her daughter, Zion – she used her camera as a weapon and agent for social change, telling a story of forgotten Americans and the fundamental need we all share for clean water.
After the drinking water source for the city of Flint was changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the cheaper Flint River, the lead leached from the lead water pipes into the drinking water due to insufficient water treatment, exposing over 100,000 residents. They experienced rashes on their skin and their hair was falling out, followed by an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease which left twelve people dead.
It took over seventeen months for the state of Michigan to switch the water back, after irreparable damage occurred to thousands of people. In her photographs, Frazier captured close family moments as well as the daily challenges families faced without access to clean water.
The poignant work of LaToya Ruby Frazier illustrates how photography can promote dialogue about social responsibility. In 2015, the Allegheny County Council (Pennsylvania, USA) awarded Frazier a Proclamation thanking her for "examining race, class, gender and citizenship in our society and inspiring a vision for the future that offers inclusion, equity and justice to all."
The exhibition LaToya Ruby Frazier: Flint Is Family will be on view at the Frost Art Museum FIU in University Park, Florida until April 14th, 2019.
Featured images: LaToya Ruby Frazier - 1,364 + Days Undrinkable, 2016 / 2017. 25 alternative process prints on paper, 119 1/2 x 159 1/2 inches; Shea standing above the Flint River on the Flint River Trail near the University of Michigan Flint Campus, 2016 / 2017; Shea with her mother, daughter, aunts and cousins; (left to right; Marcell, Kristina, Lynda, Denise, Andrea, Nephratiti, Keona, Zion, Renee, Shea) at the wedding reception outside the Social Network Banquet Hall, 2016 / 2017. Gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches; Students and Residents outside Northwestern High School (est. 1964) awaiting the arrival of President Barack Obama, May 4th 2016, I, 2016 / 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York / Rome.