LaToya Ruby Frazier, Momme, 2008. Gelatin silver print, 30 × 40 inches (76.2 × 101.6 cm). Gift of the artist and Michel Rein, Paris/Brussels. Courtesy the artist and Michael Rein, Paris/Brussels. © LaToya Ruby Frazier
By blurring the line between documentary photography and portraiture, LaToya Ruby Frazier’s photographs and videos address issues of propaganda, politics, and the importance of individual identity and agency. Over the course of the last decade, Frazier’s practice has manifested as an investigation of the social, economic, and environmental deterioration of her home town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, experienced through the tangible and psychological effects of these circumstances on her immediate family. Once a center of the American steel belt, Braddock experienced a massive downturn following the recession of the 1980s, when many of the mills vital to the local economy were either closed or downsized. The resulting economic instability drove many to flee the region, causing urban blight and widespread underemployment. The residents that remained, including Frazier and her family, witnessed their community fall into disrepair.
Momme is one in a series of collaborations between Frazier and her mother. The title, a conjunction of “mom” and “me,” references both the collaborative nature of the project and the seemingly conjoined appearance of the sitters in the photograph. Frazier’s mother appears in the foreground, peering downward, her profile parallel with the frame; LaToya’s face is split by her mother’s profile as she looks out sternly toward the viewer. With both sitters dressed casually and sporting matching hairnets, the dual portrait highlights the similarities between two generations of women living through the travails of impoverished communities. However, the photograph also serves as a personal meditation on the relationship between mother and daughter—one that appears to be fraught with tension as well as mutual admiration.
Along with other works in the ICA/Boston’s strong and ever-expanding collection of photography, including those by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, Roe Ethridge, Ragnar Kjartansson, and Thomas Ruff, Momme examines the complexity of identity by referencing the tradition of portraiture.