November 23rd, 2015
My “first impression” of Latoya Ruby Frazier’s The Notion of Family was how much it reminded me of the F.S.A. (Farm Security Administration) project. With that project, which sought to garner economic support for various social programs in response to the Depression, the goal of the photographer was directed by those who sought specific economic packages from Congress. At the beginning of the project, the photographers focused on the plight of people, with many people not being represented, and how much they needed help. It was then determined that the photographs weren’t showing enough of a positive outcome from the economic programs currently in place so the photographers were directed to show positive outcomes; with many continuing to be left out of the equation. What I find to be the most compelling part of the F.S.A.’s project is what they chose to leave out of their visual and historical narrative. What was left out is the fact that photographers, like Dorothea Lange, had no control over the narrative of the image, the photographer’s authorship and perspective, as well as which images would be used. The photographers were denied their role in providing their visual representation of the dire situation and the struggles of the people. This terrified me and made me question every single image I have ever looked at. It comes down to the artifact; directed and undirected. Ms. Frazier, her mother and her grandmother took control over the authorship and perspective of their place in the history of Braddock, PA and, in my opinion, opened doors for further exploration with regards to the authorship and perspective in social documentary of photography.
In addition, I was stricken with how much I was reminded of Dorothea Lange’s images in her work as an F.S.A. photographer. I have always felt as though she had a special vision whereby she was able to see what needed to be framed in order to be compliant with the project while, at the same time, she was able to see what needed to be translated to the viewer…the ultimate message. I did not study Dorothea Lange much beyond her contribution to the F.S.A. so I do not know what she thought about having to create directed artifacts. The notion of an artifact’s truthfulness is something I have put a great deal of thought into and what ultimately led to the motivation behind the photographic series I created as an advanced photography student (I received an Undergraduate Academic Affairs & Research Grant to complete the project and it can be found at www.catanalbarnes.com ). Like Ms. Frazier, her mother and her grandmother, I also took control of the authorship and perspective of the photographic social documentary I created. I wanted to challenge the traditional notion of what a photographic artifact is, who creates the artifact as well as to challenge the perspective of the creator of the artifact. My project was greatly influenced by what I learned about the F.S.A. as well as what I learned through the work of Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin (see below for a link to Nan Goldin’s work) whom I truly admire for their candidness.
As I worked my way to the end of Ms. Frazier’s work, I also recognized a similarity with Nan Goldin’s work . Nan Goldin’s work is extremely poignant and draws the viewer into the world they are witness to. In both works, the viewer is presented with a question, “do you recognize this?” and then they must rectify, in their minds, whether or not they do “recognize that” which has been presented to them. I find the strongest messages to be found in what is not being directly addressed, and I see that twofold in Ms. Frazier’s The Notion of Family. This is one of the most compelling works I have had the pleasure of experiencing since my undergraduate studies as an art student!
“First Impression” – While I have looked through Latoya Ruby Frazier’s Notion of Family more than once, I wanted to share my first impression because I believe that it continues with the spirit and notion that first impressions are not always accurate.
Catana L Barnes
Catana Barnes is the President of Independent Voters of Nevada.
One thought on “First Impressions from Catana Barnes”
I appreciate your bringing in the political into photo journalism. I recently saw an exhibit in California of photographs of old friends of my parents who were LIFE magazine photographers who had been fired during the red scares in the 50’s. The exhibit contained a whole series of pictures they had done of early union organizing of farm workers in the 30’s as well as a series on the great SF dock strike by longshoreman in the 40’s. The farm worker series was presented to the F.S.A. and were turned down. It was not the kind of images they were looking for. So the choice of what ones shows is a political choice and then goes on from there.