By Kathryn Hennessy
One local photographer is illustrating African American history in a new and beautiful way.
Lenny Foster moved to St. Augustine, Florida, to be closer to his parents after living in New Mexico for over 20 years. Foster started taking photos in 1991 and opened a gallery in New Mexico. He has over 30 bodies of work, featuring many different subject matters.
Here in St. Augustine, Foster discovered a rich African American history, and set out to tell the stories of people who had been overlooked by history books.
“When I moved to St. Augustine,” he said. “I knew nothing of the Civil Rights history in African American history. So upon discovering these stories and events and historical people that were here, I started to ride around and place shoes in these places representing historical people.”
The collection of these images, called “Where We Stand,” started as a small passion project, but now includes over 60 different pictures.
“This series, which I call ‘Where We Stand,’” I wanted to show where we stand, why we sing, why we protest, why we march and why we pray,” said Foster.
The image that started this collection was one taken on the bricks of the old slave market located in the middle of downtown St. Augustine.
It featured shackles Foster’s sister had brought back from Senegal, West Africa. Foster used the feet of a stranger to tell his story.
“There are a number of guys that are on the street going back and forth to the convenience store to Downtown Plaza. I stopped one man, and I asked him if I could take a picture of his feet. He kind of looked at me funny and backed up. I was like, wait a minute man, this is not that kind of party! I explained to him what I was after, so we went to the plaza, had him bare feet and placed the shackles in front of his feet. It represents someone who had just been freed of slavery, so to take that at the location where actual slaves were sold, I thought it was very powerful,” said Foster.
From this image forward Foster had started a new series.
He continues to find untold stories from local residents who have experienced historic moments in St Augustine and Lincolnville, the city’s historic African American neighborhood.
“I started reading other stories about events that happened in St. Augustine historical events, and a lot of events that aren’t historical of note,” he said. “You know, just local people know these stories, and most locals at least from the African American Community want these stories shared. They want them honored and the people, the heroes that were in this community. That’s why I’m in the process of doing this, just trying to tell stories and honor those that came before us.”
If Foster didn’t share these stories, it’s likely no one else would, despite the town being home to many historical tours for visitors.
“From what I understand from a former trolley driver, they were encouraged not to really get into the Civil Rights history and the Civil Rights protests that happened to St. Augustine. That may not be appealing to tourists that are coming here and looking for a good time. But as we know, what has happened is important to document and share. And it helps understand what’s happening today,” said Foster.
If you’d like to see more of Foster’s work, check out his website http://www.lennyfoster.com/ or visit his gallery located on 144 King St. in St. Augustine, right next to Carmello’s.