All of Frazier’s photographs are accompanied by written recollections, penned by the artist, that allow her subjects to vocalize their own realities. “‘Mom is this Flint water, can we drink this cause it came out the faucet?,’” Frazier records Zion asking her mother in the aforementioned picture’s extended caption. “‘Shea hates the fact that her daughter is aware. ‘That’s a horrible reality,’ [she says.] ‘We don’t ingest the water on any level. We waterfall little bits of bottled water at a time, brush, repeat, waterfall and gargle.’…They laugh together to throw off the situation.”
Her seminal series “The Notion of Family,” which she began in 2001, tracks the toll that the environmental and economic decimation of blue-collar towns (as well as the so-called “War on Drugs”) has had on her own family in Braddock. A key focus of the images is the mental and physical health of the Frazier women. “We are talking about that landscape and how the environmental toxicity and pollutants and systemic racism have impacted our bodies as three generations of women who were born and raised in that town and who are very present in that town—even though the media says that its a ghost town of undesirables,” Frazier explains. (Men do make appearances, as with the artist’s portraits of her grandfather, a former steel worker who died in 2003, having reliably voted Republican for much of his life.) The photographer often uses health as a motif in images like Self Portrait (Lupus Attack) and Mom’s Spine Surgery (both 2008), speaking of what it means to be black and endure poverty and racism—and also astutely nodding to how the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has replaced the United States Steel Corporation as the economic anchor of Pittsburgh and its suburb of Braddock.