Lenny Foster owned a successful art photography gallery for two decades in Taos, New Mexico.
“For years I was in the automotive business, and for five or six years I was a sales manager at a Honda dealership in Northern Virginia and I had to start taking pictures to deal with this madness,” Foster said. “And I had had enough and was looking for more in my life. Going to Taos was a way of trying to find out what it was, trying to take pictures and see where it took me, so that’s kind of how it started. was a great life.”
But for Foster, 64, family comes first. Five years ago, Foster moved to St. Augustine to care for her elderly parents.
Black History Month in St. Augustine:
“I came here five years ago to be closer to my mom and dad in Palm Coast. Luckily St. Augustine was close enough and a place I found quite comfortable and interesting enough to live in, so I moved downtown on Martin Luther King Avenue,” Foster said. “I really didn’t know anything about the civil rights history of the city, but while biking around Lincolnville, I started going to the ACCORD Freedom Trail museum and Lincolnville museum and watch documentaries about the civil rights movement here.”
The story is not told in an “easily accessible” way
“I just started doing my own little historical research because I had no idea what happened here,” he said. “The only history of St. Augustine that I knew was Ponce de Leon, which we learned in fifth grade in the Maryland suburb where I grew up. I started this discovery of history here, a story leads another because they are all interconnected… events and people.
“I first started doing it just to educate myself,” he continued. “Then I started to realize that this story wasn’t being told in an easily accessible way, so I decided I wanted to do a show to show why we walk, why we sit, why we kneel, why we pray and why we protest.”
After four years of photographing St. Augustine, his “Where We Stand” exhibit is now on display in the rotunda of the St. Johns County Administration Building, presented by the St. Johns Cultural Council.
Hanging on the walls of the building’s first and second floors, 43 black-and-white and color printed images were taken at locations important to the city’s civil rights movement. and each features shoes.
“The very first image I photographed was a pair of slave chains that my sister brought back from West Africa,” Foster said. “I photographed them on the bricks of the slave market, and I thought, wow, now it’s okay, but what I need is a presence. So I went to see a homeless man who I knew and asked him if I could photograph his feet He gave me a funny look I said no it’s up and up bro so I photographed his feet behind these chains, and it was a very powerful image.
“I wanted to tell these stories, but I wanted the presence of a person and seeing the shoes to imagine standing in those shoes and walking in those shoes,” Foster said.
Walk in the shoes of civil rights leaders
Images from the exhibit include “The House on Gault Street,” a photo of children’s and adult shoes on the brick steps of Gault Street, all that remains of a black family home that was burnt down in 1964.
“The Lunch Counter Sit-In” is a photo of shoes under the seats of a separate lunch counter which was the sit-in site at Woolworths in 1964 and is now kept at Wells-Fargo Bank on King Street in the city.
‘Willie Galimore’s House’ shows sneakers on the steps of Willie Galimore’s childhood home on Chapin Street. Galimore was a star football player for the Chicago Bears and a civil rights leader in St. Augustine.
“The Cultural Council is truly honored that we can present this exhibit,” said St. Johns Cultural Council Executive Director Christina Parrish Stone. “These stories are so important, and Black History Month is a great time to spread them. Three years ago when I arrived in St. Augustine, I began to understand the importance of the role of the area in American history and African-American history.and the city’s role in the civil rights movement.And Lenny’s work was such a powerful way to show the depth of African-American history in this riding that people didn’t really talk about it.
“I met Lenny when I was on my tour trying to meet local artists, and he shared the first photos of this series with me two years ago, and I was really impressed with the power and quality work,” she said. continued.
The St. Johns Cultural Council was founded in 2000 to support arts and cultural activities in the county. The organization is supported by local, state and federal funds.
Forster’s work from the exhibition and more of his images are for sale in his gallery, Gallery One Forty One, at 144 King St. in St. Augustine. The exhibit at the County Administration Building, 500 San Sebastian View, is free and open weekdays. Visitors must go through security to enter the county building.
“I feel like that’s my reason for being here,” Foster said. “To kind of follow some of those footsteps and tell some of the stories and share their stories so people can be enlightened like I was. What greater thing to have than a better understanding of why things happened. produced and how they affect what is happening today?”