I first saw the work of La Toya Ruby Fraizer at Whitney Biennial in 2012. There were two series of photographs showed at the Whitney that were cleverly curated to show how Frazier’s intimate portraits of herself and other family members were somehow a product of the alternating series with its images of public faces in public spaces engaging in social action in Braddock, Pennsylvania. The Campaign to Save Braddock Hospital series was puzzling me for a while; I had a hard time to enter the work, until I draw the connection from Homebody that allowed me to put all the pieces together.
new Grandma Ruby and U_P_M_C_ Braddock Hospital 2007
Fraizer’s work has the kind of gritty courageous naturalism I have always associated with American art photography. It manages to make a social and political statement while advancing an artistic message. Frazier also manages to combine her artistic message with a powerful critique of the current social and political status quo all in the same image. The gritty quality of these photographs does not in the least detract from their uncanny historical resonance, and the almost seamless merger she seems to achieve with the simplest techniques, between the private moments of a very singular psyche we can clearly see in her self-portraits, and the subtle interplay of larger historical , biological, and cultural forces that has helped shape the person we see in the camera’s eye.
Her self-portraits in particular are almost brutally naked in their devotion to at least a minimum of truth that I found somehow exquisitely beautiful, and unlike the lens that records them so deftly and beautifully, these images make no claim to any control of them.
What I found particularly striking in the Homebody series was the astonishing depth of interiority she always seems somehow magically to make visible there, and how she manages to sustain them visually in the obverse position to the viewer we expect from photographs without jeopardizing their interior truth. She does the same for The Campaign to Save Braddock Hospital-Braddock, Pennnsylvania is Frazier’s perennial visual sitz-im-leben-capturing an interior activity in public spaces we can see directly in Homebody, and far removed from the Barbie-doll and art industry preciousness of the closeted aesthetes whose work most of us will never see, or care to, that dominated most of the other galleries
I found these images endlessly fascinating, because they say so much with so little apparent artifice, and almost no impulse in them to play hide-and-seek with the truth, and the viewer, so common, it seems to me, in the work of other artists trying for post-modern finesse, and ever, ever so clever and precious l’art pour l’art. These are images of real people caught in the act of living. Their courage and vulnerability are plain in every image. These are not photographs with the conceit that they somehow represent something identifiably real, these are images with the conceit-how refreshing-that they are as real as the reality they capture.

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