Looking Back

Erica Deeman

July 7, 2018

©LaToya Ruby Frazier, Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by Scala / Art Resource, NY

We asked Erica Deeman to tell us about a picture that means something to her, and why. The Artist Speaks: Erica Deeman is on view at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego through September 16.  

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s book The Notion of Family came into my possession as a trade for a small job I had completed. It was late 2016 and I had been living in the states for five years (having moved from my home in the U.K.), making photos for roughly the same amount of time. I was on a fast track of frenzied photo consumption, immersing myself in both historic and contemporary work; learning a visual history of the United States through discoveries and omissions in the work I studied.

The book came everywhere with me, and I used any excuse to open it and absorb myself in her words and images. It was the first time I had experienced documentary photography from an insider’s perspective, challenging the tradition of the whole genre accustomed to the outsider’s viewpoint. It transformed me on multiple levels, acting as an intimate history lesson with the power to address social issues and injustice.

I have chosen the last photo in the monograph. I am always drawn to the portrait – it is at the core of my practice – and in this photograph there are three. Sitting on the side table, nestled in between the beds, the two smaller photos feel very commercial, a school photo and a baby photo. The center photograph is different, filled with reflection and melancholy. It is beautiful. The small details on the side table complete a wider narrative, the olive oil, the cigarettes, ashtray and multiple lighters, and glasses that I recognize from earlier photos of Grandma Ruby. For me, the lamp elicits a shrine-like feeling to the whole scene, of what has passed, a life that was lived – a generational view, intimate and filled with love.