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LaToya Ruby Frazier. Flint Is Family Act III. As part of the 8th Triennal of Photography

20.5.22 - 02.10.22

As part of the Triennal of Photography the Kunstverein in Hamburg presents Flint is Family, Act III by LaToya Ruby Frazier (*1982), the final part in a series of photographs documenting the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which started in 2014 and continues until today. Through capturing the stories of Flint residents, Frazier shows how industrial and governmental neglect toward the sanctity of the city’s water supply had an immediate impact on community members’ lives.

In this final act, Frazier shows how Shea Cobb, Amber Hasan, and herself – three African American women from working class backgrounds – were at the helm of bringing resources and care to a community under attack.

Flint is Family began when Frazier travelled to Flint, Michigan in 2016, commissioned by Elle magazine to document the water crisis resultant from lead contamination from the city’s infrastructure and its effects on the community. While in Flint, she met with poet, activist and mother Shea Cobb who would collaborate with her for five years, documenting the stories of Flint residents while working on initiating tangible solutions for providing clean and safe drinking water. What resulted is a series of photographs organized in three acts that follow Cobb in her fight for her family and community’s health and wellbeing, imaging her family’s personal negotiation with their environment, and documenting the personal costs of corporate and governmental irresponsibility.

In Act I, Frazier introduces Cobb, her family and her collective of artists, The Sister Tour. While on assignment, Frazier visited the Cobb family, documenting Cobb’s daily life as she worked as a hairstylist and bus driver, while supporting her career as a poet, writer and singer. Motivated by her desire to protect her daughter’s health, Cobb decided to move her family to Mississippi, where her father owns land. With Act II, Frazier shows the reverse migration of Cobb and her daughter to her father’s land, which they will one day inherit. There they learn to take care of their Tennessee Walking Horses and the land’s freshwater springs. However, due to the segregation and discrimination in the local county school system they soon decided to return to Flint.

Act III documents the arrival of a 11,793 kilogram atmospheric water generator to Flint in 2019 that Frazier, Cobb and her best friend Amber Hasan managed to set up and operate in the northern side of the city. This third act records people’s reactions to the introduction of the generator, a time which, for many of the city’s younger residents at least, was the first-time clean water had been made readily available in living memory. Through photographs and text, Frazier provides testimonials from residents, telling of their struggle to attain clean drinking water, the health problems caused as a result, and the further impact of this public health crisis on the social fabric of the community. Throughout this presentation, Frazier represents how the impact of industrial and governmental mismanagement on the environment has direct social effects on the communities living there.

Expanding on the legacy of the work of Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison, who photographed 1940s Harlem, Frazier approaches injustices of today as a continuation of this social documentary photography that is as formally astute as it is politically forceful. Frazier’s work, which focuses on actively addressing issues of social injustice, labor rights, racism, and environmental pollution in cities plunged into decline by deindustrialization, veritably corresponds with the theme of the 8th Triennal of Photography: currency.

Curated by Nicholas Tammens
Exhibition design: Lennart Wolff
Transcription: Michal Raz-Russo
Translation: Vanessa Joan Müller
Graphic Concept: Duncan Whyte / LaToya Ruby Frazier
Graphic Design: Ziga Testen, Kim Mumm Hansen

Other Exhibitions

Kunstverein in Hamburg

Kunstverein in Hamburg

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