Surprisingly, Levi’s jeans and artist LaToya Ruby Frazier have one thing in common: Braddock, Pennsylvania. Frazier was born and raised in Braddock, what was once a booming steel mill town, now decrepit and fairly toxic in the wake of de-industrialization. Levi’s adopted and re-branded the city for an ad campaign in 2010, dubbing it “the new frontier.”
In a performance the same year, captured in Art21’s New York Close Up video on the artist, Frazier crawls along the sidewalk outside the temporary Levi’s Photo Workshop that was in New York, vehemently scuffing her jeans (post-purchase, as it should be).
Frazier, a recent graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program, explores the ground between self-portraiture and social documentary, using her work – primarily photographic – to traverse the inter-generational gaps in her family. Her grandmother witnessed Braddock flourish with the appearance of department stores, theaters, and restaurants. Her mother saw the steel mills close and the affluent communities disappear into suburbs. Now, Frazier observes Braddock’s crack epidemic and the suffering of its citizens experiencing health issues due to pollution from the factories. She uses her camera to probe into her family members’ relationships and experiences (herself included) and into the un-branded city of Braddock.
Frazier will have work in the Whitney Biennial, opening in March.