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Avery Foster ’27 Reflects Authenticity, Empowerment in Photography Exhibition

Photography is a tool for seeing, documenting and investigating — and Avery Foster ’27 has used these skills in the medium to explore her other passions and to confront past experiences with her own identities. In this quick Q&A, we learn more about her work currently featured at the Durham Arts Council in a group exhibition titled “(RE)CLAMATION”, which is open until July 6, 2024. Other artists featured in the exhibition include Le’Isys Diaz, Vivian Njoroge and Naomi Nelms.

DA: How did you learn of this opportunity?

Foster: I attended a photography workshop with The Beautiful Project in the spring of 2023, became very interested in the creative process, and applied for the apprenticeship they had offered later in the year. Before that, I had only taken photos with a phone's camera, so it was a new experience, and I didn't know I would like it so much!

DA: How long have you been working on these pieces?

Foster: Officially? Around October-ish, but in my case and for my cohort members, ideas began springing into my mind since we started in August of last year. Before we started brainstorming, we used our weekly meetings to find our "theme" of sorts — what impacts do we want our work to have, how does this help us as the creator, and how do we want our work to be perceived? We also had monthly meetings in a new location, our "Saturday Studios,” where we learned everything, from learning how to swap out the different lenses of a camera to gaining experience working with models and sets. 

DA: What is your process like? 

Foster: In the past, I've had a hard time actively looking for inspiration. A lot of my motivation comes in bursts and at random, but in the case of this exhibition, it was the opposite. I had a general idea of what I wanted in my head, I just had to make it into a tangible thing. Thinking about my work's impact and what I want my work to say is my first step. My past experiences with race and identity, my passion for activism, and even my love for fashion and music all play a huge role. Curating playlists and Pinterest boards for visual and audio inspiration is my next step, where I start building up what I envision for my work. 

My work for the "(RE)CLAMATION" exhibition focused on authenticity. Being one's true self unapologetically and no one being able to tell them otherwise was something that I struggled with for a long time, so I knew that if I wanted my work to mean something to me, the creator, that's what I needed to focus on. After that, much of the work afterward came easy. I asked myself questions and answered them just as quickly. "What is the best place to capture authenticity?" Nature. It's one of the most natural things we have on this Earth. "What could symbolize self-reflection in my photography?" Mirrors, duh. It was easy to find my groove when I could do something that truly mattered to me, something that I could use to carry my momentum. 

 

DA: What inspires your work?

Foster: My past experiences and emotions fuel a lot of my passions today, including my work. Authenticity was something I struggled with, whether that be with my own identity or figuring out how I wanted to present myself. Before high school, I was questioned a lot about my identity, where people wondered if I was "really black" because I dressed or talked “like a white person.” I tried to conform and become something I wasn't only because I was scared of being perceived as different. 

I got over that hurdle, thankfully, but it is still a huge part of who I am today, and I wanted to honor that because I knew I wasn't the only one with those experiences.

DA: Do you have any plans for what you are working on next?

Foster: While my exhibit had a bigger visual focus, I plan to continue building up my writing skills in poetry and storytelling.

 

DA: How long is the work up, and is it a part of a curated show?

Foster: My work will be up until July 6! It is part of a bigger exhibit that I and a few other black girls and youth put together to combat our feelings of inferiority(in whatever that might be) and "reclaim" what is ours through the examination of the self and to invite the viewers to do the same, with self-love, anger and authenticity all being the central point.