Museum Response Paper
I understand that art is a way of life and a picture is said to be worth a thousand words. Art has
paved the way for limitless creativity. This paper focusses on the work of Latoya Ruby Frazier a
renowned photographer whose work has is quite significant. She was inspired to use her camera
as a tool to address issues regarding, poverty, intolerance, and racism in the United States. She
uses photos to tell stories of African Americans amidst economic crises of post-industrial
America. This piece describes and analyzes my response to Ruby’s work, and discusses both the
technical and contextual aspects of her work.
My initial response was wow! The photos were breathtaking. She chose to shoot them as
monograms which brings out the contrast and also tells a story through the art. All the images in
the exhibition titled Grandma Ruby and Me were shot in the same greyscale look which has a
deeper meaning which we are going to delve into later in the paper. The simplicity and subtlety
of the pictures made me feel elated as they were creatively taken to depict these characteristics to
the viewer. The lighting in the gallery made the space fill with tranquility as more people
gathered where Latoya’s art was contained. The ambiance also helped one meditate more on the
message the picture was conveying. I was also amazed on how amazing the photos were in spite
of the fact that they were shot more than a decade ago. At the time technology in photography
had not advanced much but she was able to get professional grade shots still. Viewing her work
in person made my curiosity and expectations grow as I moved from one picture to the other.
The feeling of belonging can also be felt through the pictures when she chose to document her
family’s life. A nostalgic feeling was present in the space since it brought back memories of
historical events that had occurred in America concerning African Americans.
I do relate to Latoya’s work as I am an art student and enthusiast. I believe there is power to
influence change using art. I think that she was trying to make art that would matter and have
meaning years after their creation. She had found a new way of looking at things. As a
contemporary artist, even though my work might have abstract impressions, it borrows much
from the style of Ruby. The use of real objects and people allows one to put themselves in the
photographer’s shoes. The artist employs a sense of realism going through the rest of the
portraits. The incorporation of her relatives in the photos showed how passionate she was about
driving her point home. The way that she displays various moods through her pictures relates to
the way I feel regarding her art. She emphasizes how young photographers can use their cameras
as “weapons” to address the issues affecting the society.
The piece titled Grandma Ruby and Me shot in 2009 (Fraizer) is such a great picture. This shows
how much she loves her grandmother. This is the surface meaning of the art, but it also depicts
the issues that affected the African America population such as deadly toxic waste in their land.
Another piece was Momme (Fraizer) where we see her mom almost closing her eyes with an
expression of sadness on her face. It seems as if Ruby is asking something from her mother and
from her mother’s reaction it is seen that she could not fulfill the request as a result of the crisis in their hometown. A steel mill had just been closed in their hometown of Braddock,
Pennsylvania. The town was in a financial struggle as they depended on it for their livelihood.
This work also serves to tell the stories of strong black women in America that is why she uses
her grandmother and mother. The picture Grandma Ruby, Mom and Me shot in 2009 (Fraizer)
creates in me a somber mood as it shows the demise of her grandmother. The way she describes
her grandmother in the picture shows how she is not ready to let her go despite that she is
standing in front of her coffin. It also gets one to think whether the issues prevailing in Braddock
such as industrial wastes are the ones which have led to her demise. A feeling of sadness surges
in me as I try visualizing her pain.
In describing Latoya’s work, I used various adjectives to describe the tone, texture, shape, scale,
color, and contrast among others. In art, color is essential even though some authors choose to
use mono colors depending on the type of art. Frazier’s work can be describe as being subtle in
regard to color. All her photos are in greyscale to convey his message better. She only uses black
and white colors, which give identity to her work.
Regarding contrast, Latoya has applied different levels of contrast on her pictures. When using
black and white photography contrast is an important characteristic to employ in the photos. It
focusses on bringing out the photo’s clarity. Frazier’s work employed a subtle contrast.
Ruby’s work was of a larger scale to enhance clarity and viewing of every detail in the photos. I
also think that they might have been reproduced to for use in the galleries.
The tone embedded in her art was subtle and contrasting altogether. On the contrasting bit, it is
evident in portraits such as Grandma Ruby Mom and Me shot in 2009 (Fraizer) where she still
acknowledged the presence of her deceased grandmother as if she was still alive.
The saturation level in the phots was vibrant. She made sure that the brightness and exposure
were minimal to maintain clarity and uniqueness.
The technique of black and white photography been used in all of Latoya’s works. This is used to
convey the deep emotion in the artist. The creative use of shadows and lighting has been used to
create great imagery.
Latoya has also used long exposure in one of the photographs. As a result, the background is
blurred a bit hence having a dramatic look.
Latoya’s works were displayed in inside frames in the gallery. The photos were relatively large,
and so they fit well in the frames. The images were presented in a series sorted by date.
Racial discrimination is evident in Frazier’s work. The post-war effect had a significant impact
on African Americans. In the earlier days, blacks were denied from accessing loans, a quality
education, they were subjected to poor living conditions and housing, they were paid meager
wages and limited access to services such as healthcare (Cooper). Racism seemed to run deep in
the country. The state had built good houses in areas such as Pennsylvania, but African
Americans were not allowed to own them.
Oppressive policies focused on other races especially the blacks and the Hispanics (Cooper). The
work also brings back the memories of deindustrialization and negligence which could have led
to the annihilation of the African American working class. Negligence included the emission of
chemical toxins into water bodies which supplied water to most black-cities. This increased the
risk of cancer and other immune-related ailments. Frazier’s grandmother passed away after struggling with pancreatic cancer (Cooper). This shows the level of negligence and the vindictive
policies implemented by the state.
She also showcases the ignored war which was going on against African Americans in the
United States. Black Americas were subjected to depraved working conditions which ultimately
cost her the life of her grandmother’s step-father.
The image Grandma Ruby Mom and Me shot in 2009 (Fraizer) tells the story of the results of
negligence towards the black working class in America. Frazier can be seen with her mother
paying the last respects to her grandmother’s stepfather who is in a coffin (Cooper). He
apparently died from worse working conditions since he was exposed to extreme temperatures in
furnaces and cleaning up spent metal which was toxic thus contributing to his demise (Cooper).
The story of the ongoing racial segregation and negligence in the United States primarily in
social services. In one photo captioned Momme shot in 2008 (Fraizer), we see her mother closing
her eyes in pain since she had undergone a spinal surgery hence developing complications. This
conveys her emotional state and the feeling of struggle. She had been denied access to the
intensive care unit only because she was “black” but she was dismissed after being told she did
not have a chance of survival. The use of various feelings to immerse the viewer into her work
such as sad feelings.
The exhibition as a whole tells the story of African Americans triumphs and struggles in
America. The story embedded in the images though subtle tells of the racial discrimination that is
deeply rooted in America’s law, healthcare and the economy especially the loaning sector.
The thoughts that cross my mind regarding Latoya’s work are questions. I think about the issues
which plagued the society in her time that is racial discrimination and segregation and whether
they are still existent in today’s society. I also think about their causative factors which might
still be potent up to date since the issue of inequality has been addressed in some states in
America. Atrocities have been committed against other race in America such as the Hispanics
and Asian Americans by the natives. Frazier’s work can be connected to various historical events
which have seen some of the worst displays of civil rights abuse and inequality. The work
reminds me of the Japanese internment during the second world war which saw Americans of
Japan descent being treated unfairly bearing in mind that they were innocent. It can also be
connected to the works of Gordon Park and Walker Evans who used their art for activism
purposes against issues they felt were not right. Memories of the Great Depression also comes to
mind since her work tells the story of people in poverty, inaccessibility to social amenities such
as education and healthcare and poor housing attributed to the negligent and mismanaged local,
state and federal governments.
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Cooper, Duncan. "LaToya Ruby Frazier: How To Make Your Photos Matter." The FADER,
28 Apr. 2015, www.thefader.com/2015/04/28/latoya-ruby-frazier-interview-how-to-make-your-
photos-matter. Accessed 28 Mar. 2018.
Fraizer, LaToya Ruby. Grandma Ruby and Me. Gavin Brown, New York/Rome, 2009, Gavin
Brown's Enterprise, New York/Rome.
Fraizer, LaToya Ruby. Momme. Gavin Brown, New York/Rome, 2008, Gavin Brown's
Enterprise, New York/Rome.