LaToya Ruby Frazier’s best photograph: me and my guardian angel

My grandmother collected porcelain dolls after her daughter was murdered. It was something to do with filling that loss. She was my guardian angel

America

My grandmother, who raised me, was a stern woman of very few words. She believed in strong discipline. But she was also a devoted caregiver. Growing up, she would dress me in Baby Jane ruffled dresses and braid my hair into two twists with ribbons and hair ballies. On the morning of this photo, which I took in 2005, she did my hair again, just like she did when I was a child.

Every Saturday afternoon, around the same time each week, she would tend to her porcelain dolls. She must have had hundreds, all in different sizes, different outfits, different nationalities. It was like the UN of porcelain dolls in her living room.

She began collecting them when my aunt her daughter was murdered. It was something to do with filling that loss. But it was also about pride. Despite growing up in a hard, industrial town like the one I grew up in, I never felt poor. The care she expended on them taught me that, no matter what the circumstances outside were like, we should always take care of ourselves. She taught me that we had value.

I set up the camera and the moment she came into the frame, I moved in, sat next to her and asked her to look at the lens. I had no idea what her expression was, I just turned and pressed the shutter release you can see it in my right hand. In 14 years of documenting my family and my home town, this was one of thefew times my grandmother cooperated. For that alone, this shot is immensely special to me.

To this day, Im profoundly grateful to her. She was a guardian and an angel to me. She had the foresight and knowledge of how to keep me alive and safe during a very tumultuous, difficult time.

Braddock is an industrial town in Pennsylvania, nine miles outside of Pittsburgh. By the time I was born in 1982, most of the steel mills had already closed. The unions were broken up, most companies had gone overseas and the town was abandoned, on every level: local, state and federal. Yet the land bore the marks of what had gone before: it had been poisoned by industry, and the men and women of Braddock were paying the price. They still are.

My grandmother died of cancer, my mother has battled cancer and I have lupus. Much of my childhood and my grandmothers later years were spent looking after my step-great-grandfather who worked in the factories. It ruined his body, it ruined his health, and the only healthcare he received was from the women of my family.

Its a story that rings true across America. Women create the very possibility of a workforce, not only by giving birth to the men who work in heavy industry, but by caring for them when that industry destroys them. Their story gets written out of history, doubly so when they are black.

Today the working class is, once again, being spoken about as if it were exclusively white. And yet African Americans have always worked in these industries. They have never been deemed deserving of representation by most of the photographers whose work has lasted.

If you want to talk about America or US politics, youve just got to look at this little town. Despite the hardship, people from Braddock, including my grandmother, are proud of where they come from. Its the belly of the beast, its the backbone of this country. Its home to Andrew Carnegies first factory and his first library.

People in these small towns are always much further ahead than people in the cities or the media assume. For the first time in Braddock, an African-American democratic socialist woman in her 30s has been elected to the state legislature of the 34th district. Her name is Summer Lee. She unseated a white man from a political dynasty which had been dominant since we were born, and she won by a landslide.

By the end of my lifes work, I hope to have created an archive that shows just how diverse the working class is and who the workers are. I want to show how their lives have been impacted by the fact that corporations have more rights than human beings in this country. I want to show the fullness of the working class, because its not just synonymous with whiteness.

LaToya Ruby Fraziers CV

LaToya
Photograph: Steve Benisty

Born: Braddock, Pennsylvania, US, 1982.

Studied: Master of fine arts, Syracuse University.

Influences: Allan Sekula, Martha Rosler, Carrie Mae Weems and Dawoud Bey.

High point: Receiving the MacArthur fellowship in 2015.

Low point: When my mentor Kathe Kowalski passed away in 2006.

Top tip: Let your photographs be your compass, always follow where your photographs lead you.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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