Tag Archives: Narratives

Syria’s Agony: The Photographs That Moved Them Most

Syria has always been a tough place to cover for journalists. Confidently authoritarian with a ruthlessly formidable security and intelligence apparatus, Syria has long been one of the most policed of Arab police states. So when some Syrians defied their government to take to the streets in the southern city of Dara‘a in March 2011, the temptation to cover the story was overwhelming for many, including myself.

The story of the Syrian uprising is ultimately the tale of regular citizens silencing the policeman in their heads, breaking their own personal barriers of fear to speak, to demonstrate, to demand, to reject, to no longer be afraid, to live in dignity. It’s about what these people will do, what they will endure, and what they are prepared to become to achieve their aims.

It is also the story of a significant portion of the population that considers the regime of President Bashar Assad the country’s best option, because they believe in its Baathist secular ideology or directly benefit from its patronage or don’t have confidence in Assad’s opponents and fear what may come next. Understanding what this segment of the population will accept in terms of state violence, the narratives they choose to believe and their concerns is a critical component of the story, though one that is harder to obtain, given the paucity of press visas issued by Damascus.

The only way to tell the Syrian story, really tell it, is to be on the ground with the men, women and children who are central to it, whether in Syria on in the neighboring states that many Syrians have fled to. It isn’t easy to do — the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York City, has dubbed Syria the “most dangerous place for journalists in the world” — but it is essential. Nothing beats being there. There is no compensating for seeing, feeling, touching, capturing, living the story.

The images here are a testament to the power of being on the ground, of sharing and capturing a moment for posterity, of translating an element of a person’s life through imagery.

Take a look at the photos. Can you place yourself in these situations? Can you imagine what it must be like? What do you feel when you look at the images? Are you drawn into them, or are you repulsed? Can you relate to them, or are they too alien? This is the power of translating on-the-ground reporting to an audience. This is why we must and will continue to document the Syrian uprising from inside the country when we can, and we — members of the foreign press corps — are not alone. Sadly, as is often the case, local journalists (both professional and citizen) have disproportionately borne the brunt of the casualties in this crisis. Still, this story is not about members of the media and what we go through to tell it; it’s about the Syrians who entrust their testimonies, their experiences, their hopes, their fears, their images to us in the hope that they will help explain what is happening in one of the most pivotal states in the Middle East.

—Rania Abouzeid


This collection of testimonies is the third in a series by TIME documenting iconic images of conflict. See “9/11: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” and “Afghanistan: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” for more.

Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Reporting by Vaughn Wallace.



The Green Book Project by Jehad Nga

Following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime last year, photographer Jehad Nga set out to explore the former dictator’s political and military philosophies within the framework of an underlying and contrasting Libyan culture. Here, Nga he writes for LightBox about his project, The Green Book, which depicts the conflicting values of reality through gathered images broken down into binary code.

The Green Book, first published in 1975, is a short tome setting out the political philosophy of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Intended to be required reading for all Libyans, the 24 chapters were constructed simply, containing broad and basic slogans rendered in a rudimentary writing style easy to understand by all. Gaddafi claimed to have developed the book’s theories in order to resolve many contradictions inherent in capitalism and communism thereby—by his logic, freeing its citizens from bondage of both systems. The book, however, proved for most to be nothing more than an inane manifesto used to further reduce the value of a population’s role in the building of a society.

During the revolution that finally brought Gaddafi’s reign to an end last October, it was common for the intelligence arm of the government, in its heightened state of awareness, to target people attempting to traffic information out of the country.

Employing the similar technological principles, I used a satellite adjusted to intersect varying levels of Internet traffic flow transmitted over Libya. An assigned command allowed for the satellite to look only for photographs and disregard all other associated data traffic.

Without any distinguishable narratives, the constant stream of communication I captured visually grew over time to resemble a hyper-realized paradise, where the borders between the natural and supernatural had been washed away. From the ebb and flow of images being sent between people—the population’s naked, unedited psyche rendered visual—I harvested 24 representative images.

Once the images were captured, I wanted to further explore the meaning of my action. I first reduced each image to its most basic structure, binary code, which singled it out from the other billion bits of data shooting through the sky. This conversion exposed each image’s digital “cell structure”—millions of algorithms mathematically, miraculously unified to produce something of beauty. Code is built in layers, each with a metaphor constructed by its programmer to enact and describe its behavior. Reducing an image to pure binary data strips it of any individual identity, any protection, and any premise.

I was able to exploit this frailty—the structural weakness of each image—by introducing new information into its binary data. Each chapter of The Green Book was introduced into the code structure of each photo, threatening to break the image file past the threshold of recognition. Sometimes the new data caused the complete collapse of the image structure. When my experiment was successful, the text at once contaminated the image and created something new.

The final product is a depiction of how something with “genetic predisposition,” something rigid and fixed, struggles to coexist with additional textual information. The conflicting “values” are evident in the distorted and augmented reality presented by the photographs.

Taken as a whole, The Green Book Study, a collection of 24 images that carries with it Gaddafi’s three-volume manifesto in its entirety, becomes an method for evaluating the process of which a society’s human structure becomes distorted and at time fully collapsed by a command line of one totalitarian vision.

Jehad Nga is a New York-based photographer. LightBox has previously featured Nga’s work about his Libyan roots as well as a photo essay on the world’s biggest refugee complex.

The project will be showing at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York and the M+B Gallery in Los Angeles.

FRESH: The Wall / The Page / The Internet

FRESH: The Wall / The Page / The Internet

A collaboration with Klompching Gallery

Editor's Note: Flak Photo is proud to partner with Klompching Gallery to present photography stories from FRESH, a group exhibition featuring five new voices in contemporary image-making. The objective of Klompching's annual summer program is to showcase photography that is fresh in approach and vision. This year's exhibition was curated by photo collector Fred Bidwell and gallerist Darren Ching and is on view through August 18, 2012. For more information, visit Klompching.com

 

Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman, Fraxinus (Ash) impression with Diann, seed pods, 2011

Barbara Ciurej & Lindsay Lochman: The hybrid process used in Natural History is a combination of cyanotype experimentation and our portraits of older women. Lindsay coated one of the digitally printed portraits with cyanotype solution, placed a frond from a bleeding heart plant on it and exposed it to the sun. The black and white portrait emerged through the Prussian blue “photogram” of the botanicals. What developed was a revelation — the moment when ideas synthesize and photography becomes a medium of magical alignment. The impressions created a layering of narratives that we search for in making our work. The process recalled Anna Atkins, the 19th-century botanist who first used cyanotype to produce her books on British ferns and algae. The unpredictable application of cyanotype solution on paper is the antithesis of the mechanical product of the digital print. In these transformed portraits, surface and interior blur; historical processes blend with contemporary techniques and remind us of the evanescence of light and life – the shadow we live in.

Ciurej & Lochman are based in Chicago, Ill. and Milwaukee, Wis. Learn more about them on their Flak Photo Profile »

 

Tabitha Soren, Running 001314, 2012

Tabitha Soren: For the past two and a half years, my Running series has taken me from my home in California to twelve states, Mexico and Canada in search of willing subjects. The only casting requirement was that the people could run. In this series, I’m attempting to acknowledge the world unseen beyond the frame, while caging my subjects inside. When people are running, their bodies contort and we get to glimpse emotions that are normally hidden. The fight or flight response is something each of us can connect with. Yet, the cause and effect of what is happening in each Running picture remains a mystery. I’m inviting viewers to mine their own secrets to expand on each picture's narrative. I want them to participate. The role of accident, panic and resilience are consistent themes in my work and sometimes all three arise during one shoot. For example, for Running 000516, my next-door neighbor, an opera singer, came out of the water with her body covered in flesh-colored leeches. I had no idea leeches came in any other color than black so naturally, a surge of horror and guilt came over me for what I had just put her through. However, because the singer had grown up on a Bay Area commune, she said, “Oh yeah, this has happened before,” and casually plucked them off one by one with her towel.

Tabitha Soren is based in Berkely, California. Learn more about her on her Flak Photo Profile »

 

Martin Bogren, Lowlands 08, Skurup, Sweden, 2009

Martin Bogren: From the beginning, I wanted to make a portrait of my childhood village, but along the way this project came to be more about memories, about growing up — and a more personal and subjective story began to take shape. I've always traveled and I frequently make photographs that tell personal stories in foreign places. It’s easy to fascinate one’s self with exotic locales and the Lowlands project was a way for me to photograph something closer, something part of myself. I began to make images of the people and places in my home village four years ago. In the beginning I worked mostly with pocket and rangefinder cameras, and the pictures I was making resembled classic documentary. A few years ago, I started working with a medium format (6×6) camera, which slowed down my process and put me closer to my subjects. I tend to be most productive in late summer in the seasonal shift just before the fall. There is a kind of "after summer” look to these images. It's something with the light, but also in my mood.

Martin Bogren is based in Malmo, Sweden. Learn more about him on his Flak Photo Profile »

 

Monika Merva, Irma's Peaches, Budapest, Hungary, 2010

Monika Merva: After completing a long-term, site-specific project I wanted to do something personal, that got back to my roots. At the time I was a stay-at-home mom, so it made sense to photograph my family, friends and the objects I hold dear. These pictures were made in Budapest and Brooklyn, two cities I call home. The imperfect, perfect peaches were plucked from my cousin’s tree, the wet hair on my daughter’s back I see every evening during her bath, the portrait of a woman with a comb in her hair is of my great aunt, who held my hand while I jumped in puddles as a toddler, and the complex expression of the woman sitting in the gold chair belongs to my friend’s mother. Andrew Wyeth once said, “I think one’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes.” I read that quote more than fifteen years ago while studying for myMFA. As I was scanning my bookcase for inspiration I found my bound thesis, covered in dust, and opened it up to read a few pages. Not much has changed my motivations for making photographs. For me, the camera helps convey my love and appreciation; it’s a way to explore the world.

Monika Merva is based in Brooklyn New York. Learn more about her on her Flak Photo Profile »

 

Shawn Rocco, #3321, Flicker (Series I), 2012

Shawn Rocco: Curiosity. It leads to exploration, discovery, understanding and knowledge. That is my attraction to documentary photography; I'm curious about life in all its aspects. How we live our lives, interconnected on so many levels, to each other and the planet. I'm also fascinated at how reality is processed through the mechanizations of the camera. I often photograph for no other reason than to see the world interpreted through the lens. And sometimes, like in this instance, the reward is witnessing a spectrum of reality that would otherwise go unnoticed. I was in an office taking ambient light exposures when I rocked back in a chair and happened to look up. With no preconception, I raised the camera. Surprisingly, through the LCD screen, I noticed that the flickering wavelengths of the fluorescent lighting above me were more distinctive than my naked eye could see. Attracted to the beauty of not just the image, but the act of discovering something new in the ordinary and familiar, I took a photo. Was the pattern peculiar to only this fixture? Is it just in this room? What was going on? This intriguing phenomenon invited exploration. I was curious and my camera showed me something new.

Shawn Rocco is based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Learn more about him on his Flak Photo Profile »

 

Get your work seen! Submit your projects for consideration of The Collection, Flak Photo's ever-expanding archive of contemporary image-makers. Featuring community contributions daily, Monday through Friday. Submission Info »

FRESH: The Wall / The Page / The Internet

FRESH: The Wall / The Page / The Internet

A collaboration with Klompching Gallery

Editor's Note: Flak Photo is proud to partner with Klompching Gallery to present photography stories from FRESH, a group exhibition featuring five new voices in contemporary image-making. The objective of Klompching's annual summer program is to showcase photography that is fresh in approach and vision. This year's exhibition was curated by photo collector Fred Bidwell and gallerist Darren Ching and is on view through August 18, 2012. For more information, visit Klompching.com

 

Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman, Fraxinus (Ash) impression with Diann, seed pods, 2011

Barbara Ciurej & Lindsay Lochman: The hybrid process used in Natural History is a combination of cyanotype experimentation and our portraits of older women. Lindsay coated one of the digitally printed portraits with cyanotype solution, placed a frond from a bleeding heart plant on it and exposed it to the sun. The black and white portrait emerged through the Prussian blue “photogram” of the botanicals. What developed was a revelation — the moment when ideas synthesize and photography becomes a medium of magical alignment. The impressions created a layering of narratives that we search for in making our work. The process recalled Anna Atkins, the 19th-century botanist who first used cyanotype to produce her books on British ferns and algae. The unpredictable application of cyanotype solution on paper is the antithesis of the mechanical product of the digital print. In these transformed portraits, surface and interior blur; historical processes blend with contemporary techniques and remind us of the evanescence of light and life – the shadow we live in.

Ciurej & Lochman are based in Chicago, Ill. and Milwaukee, Wis. Learn more about them on their Flak Photo Profile »

 

Tabitha Soren, Running 001314, 2012

Tabitha Soren: For the past two and a half years, my Running series has taken me from my home in California to twelve states, Mexico and Canada in search of willing subjects. The only casting requirement was that the people could run. In this series, I’m attempting to acknowledge the world unseen beyond the frame, while caging my subjects inside. When people are running, their bodies contort and we get to glimpse emotions that are normally hidden. The fight or flight response is something each of us can connect with. Yet, the cause and effect of what is happening in each Running picture remains a mystery. I’m inviting viewers to mine their own secrets to expand on each picture's narrative. I want them to participate. The role of accident, panic and resilience are consistent themes in my work and sometimes all three arise during one shoot. For example, for Running 000516, my next-door neighbor, an opera singer, came out of the water with her body covered in flesh-colored leeches. I had no idea leeches came in any other color than black so naturally, a surge of horror and guilt came over me for what I had just put her through. However, because the singer had grown up on a Bay Area commune, she said, “Oh yeah, this has happened before,” and casually plucked them off one by one with her towel.

Tabitha Soren is based in Berkely, California. Learn more about her on her Flak Photo Profile »

 

Martin Bogren, Lowlands 08, Skurup, Sweden, 2009

Martin Bogren: From the beginning, I wanted to make a portrait of my childhood village, but along the way this project came to be more about memories, about growing up — and a more personal and subjective story began to take shape. I've always traveled and I frequently make photographs that tell personal stories in foreign places. It’s easy to fascinate one’s self with exotic locales and the Lowlands project was a way for me to photograph something closer, something part of myself. I began to make images of the people and places in my home village four years ago. In the beginning I worked mostly with pocket and rangefinder cameras, and the pictures I was making resembled classic documentary. A few years ago, I started working with a medium format (6×6) camera, which slowed down my process and put me closer to my subjects. I tend to be most productive in late summer in the seasonal shift just before the fall. There is a kind of "after summer” look to these images. It's something with the light, but also in my mood.

Martin Bogren is based in Malmo, Sweden. Learn more about him on his Flak Photo Profile »

 

Monika Merva, Irma's Peaches, Budapest, Hungary, 2010

Monika Merva: After completing a long-term, site-specific project I wanted to do something personal, that got back to my roots. At the time I was a stay-at-home mom, so it made sense to photograph my family, friends and the objects I hold dear. These pictures were made in Budapest and Brooklyn, two cities I call home. The imperfect, perfect peaches were plucked from my cousin’s tree, the wet hair on my daughter’s back I see every evening during her bath, the portrait of a woman with a comb in her hair is of my great aunt, who held my hand while I jumped in puddles as a toddler, and the complex expression of the woman sitting in the gold chair belongs to my friend’s mother. Andrew Wyeth once said, “I think one’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes.” I read that quote more than fifteen years ago while studying for myMFA. As I was scanning my bookcase for inspiration I found my bound thesis, covered in dust, and opened it up to read a few pages. Not much has changed my motivations for making photographs. For me, the camera helps convey my love and appreciation; it’s a way to explore the world.

Monika Merva is based in Brooklyn New York. Learn more about her on her Flak Photo Profile »

 

Shawn Rocco, #3321, Flicker (Series I), 2012

Shawn Rocco: Curiosity. It leads to exploration, discovery, understanding and knowledge. That is my attraction to documentary photography; I'm curious about life in all its aspects. How we live our lives, interconnected on so many levels, to each other and the planet. I'm also fascinated at how reality is processed through the mechanizations of the camera. I often photograph for no other reason than to see the world interpreted through the lens. And sometimes, like in this instance, the reward is witnessing a spectrum of reality that would otherwise go unnoticed. I was in an office taking ambient light exposures when I rocked back in a chair and happened to look up. With no preconception, I raised the camera. Surprisingly, through the LCD screen, I noticed that the flickering wavelengths of the fluorescent lighting above me were more distinctive than my naked eye could see. Attracted to the beauty of not just the image, but the act of discovering something new in the ordinary and familiar, I took a photo. Was the pattern peculiar to only this fixture? Is it just in this room? What was going on? This intriguing phenomenon invited exploration. I was curious and my camera showed me something new.

Shawn Rocco is based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Learn more about him on his Flak Photo Profile »

 

Get your work seen! Submit your projects for consideration of The Collection, Flak Photo's ever-expanding archive of contemporary image-makers. Featuring community contributions daily, Monday through Friday. Submission Info »

Photo News: Yaakov Israel wins PHotoEspaña Descubrimientos PHE12 award

The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey, ©Yaakov Israel. Photo courtesy of the photographer.

I’m so happy to report that Israeli photographer Yaakov Israel has won the PHotoEspaña Descubrimientos (PHE12 Discoveries) 2012 Award for his series The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey. As the winner Israel will take part in PHotoEspaña 2013. The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey was the inaugural exhibition in May at Zelda Cheatle and Deborah Goldman’s new gallery Margaret Street Gallery, see images below, including one of Yaakov and his wife Maya. The work is featured in a book of the same name published by Schilt Publishing.

I first saw Israel’s work at Arles photo festival a few years ago and interviewed him for the April/May 2012 issue of Hotshoe. Excerpt from the feature I wrote in Hotshoe April/May 2012: “A quest is a specific type of journey, one that implies a search for something, and is a familiar plot device used in narratives, both visual and literary. As used in the title of Yaakov’s debut monograph, it is a concept that replaced that of the “photographic journey” as the project developed. In tandem with the idea of a quest, there is also a type of storytelling, more akin to that of a parable, flowing through the book. For Yaakov, the turning point came when he met a man on a white donkey in 2006 – four years into the project. “In the Jewish tradition, this man is supposed to be a religious prophet dressed in white robes. Whereas the man I met was a Palestinian farmer who materialized in the Judean desert in 45-degree heat. The encounter had a biblical feel to it and made me realize that I was really on a quest to explore what it means to be Israeli, and for me to live in this country. Up until then I’d just been looking, but once I understood the project – when I could write down what I was looking for – it presented itself everywhere. It didn’t matter where I was.

“Thus, Yaakov also embarks on an internal, psychological quest in his search for self-identity in a fractured and complex cultural context. “The more I worked on the project, the more I understood that it was not just about the geographical or social aspects of contemporary Israel, but also about the myths and the religions, as well as political and human aspects. It’s like I’m looking for something that only exists when I look at it,” he says. The images that are included in the book therefore are ones that represent for him “the journey and the idea of the journey simultaneously – the mental journey, the physical journey, and the idea of the quest”. Miranda Gavin

The jury of Descubrimientos PHE12 consisted of Anne McNeill, director of Impressions Gallery (Bradford, United Kingdom); Markus Schaden, editor and founder of Schaden (Germany); and Roger Szmulewicz, director of the Fifty One Fine Art Photography Gallery(Belgium).  Israel’s porfolio was presented in a review session at Centro de Arte Alcobendas of Madrid during June.

The winners of the last editions of the prize are Fernando Brito,Vanessa Winship, Alejandra Laviada, Yann Gross, Harri Palviränta, Stanislas Guigui, Vesselina Nikolaeva, Comenius Röthlisberger, Pedro Álvarez, Tanit Plana, Sophie Dubosc, Juan de la Cruz Megías, Paula Luttringer and Matías Costa.

Filed under: Art shows, Photo & Press Agencies, Photography Bursaries Tagged: Descubrimientos, Israel, Margaret Street Gallery, PHotoEspaña, photographer, Schilt Publishing, Yaakov Israel, Zelda Cheatle

Caleb Cole

Sometimes you see work that you fall in love with, and then you meet the person who created the work and you fall in love with the work a little more, because that person is so great. Such is the case of Caleb Cole and his wonderful series, Other People’s Clothes. I have been a fan of this work since it first knocked me out in the 2009 when juroring the Critical Mass offerings and I featured some of it on LENSCRATCH. Caleb has been hard at work completing the series, and is getting ready to create a book. But I’ll let him tell you about it.


If you would like to help Caleb bring this project into book form, you can donate here.

OTHER PEOPLE’S CLOTHES: At the heart of my work is a fascination with ambiguities and inconsistencies, an interest in how I go about negotiating areas of grey and how others manage to do the same. When I am in public, I watch people going about their daily routines alone; I wonder about the lives they lead, wonder how they experience the world around them and how they make meaning of it. I spend time inventing stories for them: narratives of isolation, of questioning and searching, of desire, and of confusion. The images in Other People’s Clothes are a product of my exploration of private moments of expectation, a visual expression of my experiences stepping into the shoes of the types of people I see on a daily basis. Each photograph in the series is a constructed scene that begins with an outfit or piece of clothing (either bought, found, or borrowed), then a person that I imagine to fill those clothes, and finally a location where that person can play out a silent moment alone. This moment is the time right before something changes, the holding in of a breath and waiting, the preparing of oneself for what is to come. Though I am the physical subject of these images, they are not traditional self-portraits. They are portraits of people I have never met but with whom I feel familiar, as well as documents of the process wherein I try on the transitional moments of others’ lives in order to better understand my own.

Richard Mosse: Infra @ Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool

All photography is a kind of step away from reality. Few photographers within the documentary genre have gone further to embrace this notion than Richard Mosse, whose current photo project exploring armed conflict in the eastern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Richard Mosse: Infra, opens today at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool.

“Documentary photography is now at the moment where it has to change,” says Mosse. “It is behind the times – the forms of modern conflict are profoundly complex; their narratives are impossibly difficult to convey.”

Investigating a fresh form to represent the continued hostilities surrounding the deadliest war in human history—a very old and ongoing conflict that had gone stale in popular consciousness—Mosse toured eastern Congo between 2010-11, armed with two cameras and a supply of Kodachrome film, rendering the characters of this war in vivid hues of lavender, crimson and hot pink. The tension between the hot pink-tinted worlds rendered on film and the devastating subject of the photography is what makes Mosse’s work so compelling. In taking a step away from the standard visual language of photojournalism, Mosse is producing unimaginable images that effectively underscore the truly unimaginable reality of the conflict they capture, a modern conflict too opaque for standard methods of representation.

»Read Richard Mosse’s interview with Liverpool Daily Post on his Infra series and exhibition
»Watch Richard Mosse discuss the stories behind Infra, and preview the Open Eye Gallery installation

Richard Mosse: Infra will be on view March 30 through June 10, 2012

Open Eye Gallery
Liverpool, United Kingdom
+44 (0) 151 236 6768

Also consider Richard Mosse’s first book, Infra: Photographs by Richard Mosse (Aperture 2012), or a limited edition print from the Infra series, “Debris, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011″

Richard Mosse is also featured in Aperture Magazine # 203, “Richard Mosse: Sublime Proximity interview with Aaron Schuman”

When the Personal Turns Political: LaToya Ruby Frazier at the Whitney Biennial

From the outset of her career as a young artist, LaToya Ruby Frazier has always found inspiration at home. In thoughtfully constructed black and white photographs she began, in her teens, to document herself and her family life in Braddock, Pa.

“What’s the most intimate thing you can portray? For me, it’s myself,” she says.

The work Frazier has featured in the 2012 Whitney Biennial in New York City, which starts Thursday, builds on the classic documentary work she studied while in college at Syracuse University. Over time, the photographer, now 30, began to incorporate staged narratives and self-portraiture meant to challenge viewers with questions about the artist’s objectivity and representation, and that of her loved ones.

She was inspired by the famous work of the Farm Security Administration photographers like Dorothea Lange, but questioned those images. “We all remember Lange’s photograph of the migrant mother but how many of us remember her name?” she asks. “I felt social documentary can only go so far and I started to think, ‘What if the subjects of the Depression-era images photographed themselves?’”

The work featured in the Biennial leaves the confines of her family home and addresses the larger history and representation of Braddock, Pa.—yet it’s all inextricably linked back to Frazier’s life. The first series, called Campaign for Braddock Hospital (Save Our Community Hospital), began when she discovered in her research that the history of Braddock had omitted all the black families that lived there, including that of her own grandfather, who was a steel worker. It didn’t help when the clothing company Levi’s began using Braddock’s industrial history as the inspiration for a major advertising campaign. In one ad, the denim company calls for the “New Pioneers” to “Go Forth” to new opportunities in Braddock and invigorate the town’s growth.

Frazier was left stunned by what she saw as the irony and greed of the ads and eventually repurposed those images in her artwork. The series is made of two parts: first she begins a process of “copy editing” the ads with comments from members of the community, and photographs them. Then she made documentary photos of an actual protest to save the town’s hospital. All the images were made into black and white lithographic prints referencing both turn-of-the-century advertising and social documentary of the 1930s.

In a second series debuting at the Biennial, called Homebody, she created a set of narrative self-portraits in her step grandfather’s now-abandoned apartment in Braddock. The work is a more personal complement to the Campaign series and records a place steeped in memories for Frazier, memories of her deceased grandmother Ruby. The images document a performance in front of the camera as she moves throughout the empty, decaying environment. The Homebody photos expose a fragility that’s often apparent in her work: in an earlier series, The Notion of Family, she had recorded the end of her Grandmother’s life. Frazier herself, her mother and grandmother have all suffered chronic illnesses. Her portraits and self-portraits, she says, “are meant to be factual records of those things and are reflected in the collapsed landscape that is modern day Braddock, Pa.”

“I’m archiving history thats been erased,” she says. “I’m showing what the media is not showing—moments in the town that have been omitted from history and not just African American history, but the working class people I’m speaking about.”

“Braddock started to fall apart when I was born. I’m interested in how I contextualize myself,” she adds. The collapsed interiors and old blankets depicted in the Homebody series don’t provide comfort, only the feeling of whats been lost for Frazier, in a town that’s struggling to move toward an American dream that faded generations ago.

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s work is currently on view in the 2012 Whitney Biennial in New York City. She has previously exhibited her work at The New Museum, MoMA PS1 and The Andy Warhol Museum. She was featured last fall on the PBS program Art 21. To see more of her work click here.