LaToya Ruby Frazier considers it her life’s mission to make visible the injustices faced by working-class families. Building on a rich legacy of documentary photography, from Dorothea Lange to Gordon Parks, Frazier uses images to tell us what it’s like when your government, your employer, your country fails you.
For “The Last Cruze,” which opens at the Renaissance Society on September 14, Frazier spent months with the workers who lost their jobs at the recently shuttered General Motors production plant in Lordstown, Ohio. GM opened the factory in 1966 and, after decades of job loss in the Midwest, it remained a crucial source of employment in the area. Generations of families worked at the plant, often staying for their whole careers. Despite the $50 billion government bailout GM received following the Great Recession, and the fact that it’s been in the black for years (chief executive Mary Barra took home close to $22 million in compensation in 2018), the company decided to stop manufacturing its fuel-efficient Chevy Cruze, the only model in production in Lordstown.
“General Motors’ Chevrolet Cruze is a symbol of America,” Frazier says. “It came into existence in 2008 during the auto industry bailout. Both the American taxpayer and local unions helped save General Motors, which now has an estimated worth of more than $132 billion, so this should be a concern for all of us. General Motors’ slogan is family first and yet it is ripping families apart.”
“The Last Cruze” includes sixty-seven photographs showing the assembly line, the town itself, the series of events leading up to the plant shutdown, and most importantly, the families impacted by the job loss. A video about Kasey King, the photographer from the union that represents the workers, and a historic timeline on the labor movement will also be on display.
“When I noticed that union members at Local 1112 and 1714 were drowned out in the media by accusations against them from both the current president and the CEO of GM,” Frazier says, “it became crystal-clear to me that this story must be told for and by the autoworkers and their family members in the form of mass media.”
Frazier makes personal what news reports and statistics about changing economic trends obscure. You see the stunned disbelief on people’s faces as they weigh their options, none good. You see the bravery of teenagers, trying to be supportive of their distressed parents. You see the humanity of this community, the dignity they found in working for an American automotive giant. In these photographs, Frazier lets their story tell itself.
“I believe in the knowledge and experience of the people within their own community,” Frazier says. “America needs to listen to workers and their families more.” (Kerry Cardoza)
“The Last Cruze” opens at the Renaissance Society, 5811 South Ellis, on September 14.