Now available in a paperback edition, LaToya Ruby Frazier’s award-winning first book, The Notion of Family, offers an incisive exploration of the legacy of racism and economic decline in America’s small towns, as embodied by her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania.
The work also considers the impact of that decline on the community and on her family, creating a statement both personal and truly political—an intervention in the histories and narratives of the region. Frazier has compellingly set her story of three generations—her Grandma Ruby, her mother, and herself—against larger questions of civic belonging and responsibility. The work documents her own struggles and interactions with family and the expectations of community, and includes the documentation of the demise of Braddock’s only hospital, reinforcing the idea that the history of a place is frequently written on the body as well as the landscape. With The Notion of Family, Frazier knowingly acknowledges and expands upon the traditions of classic black-and-white documentary photography, enlisting the participation of her family, and her mother in particular. In the creation of these collaborative works, Frazier reinforces the idea of art and image-making as a transformative act, a means of resetting traditional power dynamics and narratives—both those of her family and of the community at large.