Three photographs you should see this week in New York

Jessica Backus
Apr 5, 2013 2:19PM

Number 1: Let us now praise unknown women. Latoya Ruby Frazier’s social documentary at the Brooklyn Museum

Latoya Ruby Frazier’s current exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum is absolutely not to miss. This young, female African American artist has produced a devastatingly personal and political body of work since her student days (she received a BFA in 2004 and then studied with Carrie Mae Weems at Syracuse). There is an eerie past in Frazier’s photographs of post-industrial Braddock, a town outside of Pittsburgh and home to Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill, that most of us would rather remain ignorant of. While never succumbing to gratuitous confession, the artist weaves uncomfortably personal images of family members—her convalescent grandmother, her mother’s scars after surgery—into the portrait of a town that first industry, then government, most of its white inhabitants, and lastly history abandoned.  Stasis pervades Frazier’s slightly grainy, beautifully pulled silver gelatin prints, as if the sky hovers a bit lower over this part of the world. 

The flat backdrops of the portraits are arresting, literally, halting the gaze and signaling that there is no exit from what some see as a ghost town, but which Frazier reveals to be "A Haunted Capital" (the exhibition's title), endowing it with life, however precarious. Three generations of Frazier women—the artist included, who suffers from lupus—are affected by illnesses related to Braddock’s industrial past. “Grandma Ruby, mom and I have all been shaped by external forces: on the micro-level, we are three women from an abandoned community, but on the macro-level, I see us as symbolic of state oppression and neglect.”

Jessica Backus