Lasting Legacies: Lenny Foster on Photographing Local Black Communities

Lasting Legacies: Lenny Foster on Photographing Local Black Communities 2

 

Local photographer Lenny Foster was born in Washington, D.C. in 1957. A self-taught photographer, he began his professional career in 1997. Before he became a professional photographer, he worked in automobile management. According to Foster, he began shooting pictures in 1991, five years into sobriety as way to recover from alcohol/substance abuse, and to find balance in life after working long hours in a toxic environment. He is the second of three children. His mother, Mary Foster, worked as an executive secretary for the Department of Defense; his father James Foster was the Director of Personnel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Foster and his thirteen-year-old son eventually came to St. Augustine from Taos, New Mexico to be closer to his parents.

 

            Since moving to the Ancient City, Foster has helmed various projects, such as his Where We Stand series. According to him,

“The Where We Stand developed because of my discovery of the rich, historic heritage of the African-American community, my desire to learn more and to share it in a unique way, that may pique the interest of those, like I, who weren’t aware of the significant contributions of African Americans in St. Augustine. The shoes as part of the storytelling, may encourage folks to stand in the shoes of those who walked here before and maybe on some level feel the courage, bravery, strength, struggle, strife and victorious overcoming of all the oppression, vitriol and abuse that we have experienced.”

Other series include Street Saints and First City. According to Foster,

The Street Saints came into being after discovering St. Augustine and his mother were from Ethiopia, and because of my curiosity about finding other lesser-known Catholic Saints of African descent. At the same time, I experienced an epiphany about how the unhoused population is viewed here and in most other cities across the country. I began seeing beyond their appearance, circumstances, and conditions and found myself focusing on their spirit, their Divinity if you will, just like I would with people I know and love.”

Although his primary inspiration to become a photographer came from the infamous Harlem photographers James Van Der Zee and Gordon Parks, Foster has long acknowledged the contributions of Richard Twine and John Jackson.  Now, Foster is part of a long-lasting legacy of Black photographers in St. Augustine, dating back to Twine in the 1920s and Jackson from the 1940s to the 1970s. When asked about his role in this storied and important tradition, Foster said,

 “It’s been such a blessing to discover and to be inspired by the works of Mr. Twine and Mr. Jackson, as it has given me a purpose, a passion and inspiration to continue documenting the community they loved and honored. The more I discover about them and the history of the African American community and heroes, past and present, the more I am both humbled and driven to use my time here to shine a light on the community’s most important history and its people.”

Lenny Foster’s work is on exhibit alongside the works of both Richard A. Twine and John L. Jackson as part of a series of exhibits highlighting St. Augustine’s Black photographers at the Oldest House Museum Complex until September 15, 2024.

Written by Shelby Fox

Edited by Robert Covert

Sources:

Written interview with Lenny Foster.