The American photographer's eponymous book on poverty, racism, and the human cost of post-industrial decline wins the 35th annual award
LaToya Ruby Frazier is an artist, educator and activist who blends fine art and documentary, employing a participatory approach to storytelling to campaign for social justice. “I use my photographs as a platform to… create visibility for people who are on the margins, who are deemed ‘unworthy’,” said the photographer, whose commitments include campaigning for environmental justice, widening visual representations of working class communities, and promoting access to healthcare, education and employment.
Today, Frazier is awarded the 35th annual Kraszna-Krausz Photobook Award for her eponymous book, which was published to accompany her 2019 exhibition at Mudam museum in Luxembourg. LaToya Ruby Frazier was among three shortlisted publications for the award, and will receive a grant of £5,000, along with a showcase in a live-streamed event hosted in partnership with The Photographers’ Gallery on 30 September.
The book was selected for its historical legacy and “magazine-like production values”. Providing a commentary on poverty, racial discrimination and the human cost of post-industrial decline, it presents three of the photographer’s major series. The Notion of Family (2001–14) explores the legacy of racism and economic decline in America’s small towns, as embodied by Frazier’s hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. On the Making of Steel Genesis: Sandra Gould Ford (2017) explores the life and work of artist Sandra Gould Fold, who Frazier first met in 2015. The artists soon realised their connection as Black women artists from Pennsylvania, interested in working class issues, and discovered that they once lived in the same apartment building, the Talbot Towers in Braddock — Ford as a newlywed and Frazier as a newborn. The resulting project brings together their work in conversation. Lastly, And From the Coaltips a Tree Will Rise (2016–17) focuses on the residents of Borinage, a Belgian mining region whose intense activity in the 19th century was diminished by a series of crises that led to the closure of the last mine in 1976.
I use my photographs as a platform to advocate for social justice and as a means to create visibility for people who are on the margins, who are deemed ‘unworthy’LaToya Ruby Frazier
Frazier, who is an associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has received international recognition for her work. In 2015, her first book, The Notion of Family, received the ICP Infinity Award, and in 2016, she was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant. This led to a five month residency in Flint, Michigan, where she documented three generations of women as they endured one of the most devastating ecological disasters in US history: the Flint water crisis. In February 2020, the project, Flint is Family, became the inaugural winner of the Gordon Parks Foundation/Steidl Book Prize, and will be published in 2021. This year, Frazier will also publish, LaToya Ruby Frazier: The Last Cruze, which centers around workers at the General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, where the company’s shift overseas has uprooted livelihoods and divided families.
“In my photographs, I make social commentary about urgent issues I see in the communities or places I’m in,” says Frazier, in a statement issued by the Kraszna-Krausz foundation. “I use them as a platform to advocate for social justice and as a means to create visibility for people who are on the margins, who are deemed “unworthy”: the poor, the elderly, the working class, and anyone who doesn’t have a voice. I create depictions of their humanity that call for equity. That is what is dear to my practice and my position as an artist.”