Seattle Art Museum
Through June 22

Braddock, Pa., has long been a challenging place to grow up, said Brienne Walsh in Home to Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill, the small riverfront city just outside Pittsburgh has been abandoned by all but about 2,200 residents, and those who remain live in a setting so blighted and environmentally degraded that it served as a backdrop for the post-apocalyptic 2009 film The Road. Thirty-one-year-old LaToya Ruby Frazier is one of those 2,200, and her black-and-white images of Braddock and its people “call to mind the work of Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks.” Both her intimate portraits of family members and the more recent color photographs she took from a helicopter convey a straightforward purpose, said Brian Miller in Seattle Weekly. “‘Look at us,’ Frazier is saying; ‘this is how we live.’”

Frazier also packs her work with ideas, said Jen Graves in the Seattle Stranger. She, her mother, and her stately grandmother feature heavily in the domestic scenes, and as they lounge on faded furniture, braid hair, and reveal the ravages of various environmental ailments, the images offer “twists on feminism and performance” that are “sometimes playful and sometimes edgy.” The aerial photos, meanwhile, create a map that pushes back against developers and city planners who wish to focus solely on revitalization efforts fueled by the arrival of artists seeking bargain-basement real estate. For Frazier, it must feel at times “as if her two great passions—her people and her art—are in mortal combat.” Others are using Braddock as if it were a theme park or museum. In her growing body of work, Frazier is “fighting to preserve the distinction between symbols and actual things.”