by Mark Schumann ~
Taos photographer and gallerist Lenny Foster has come to consider his new book, “Enchanted Land,” as both a visual love letter and a 20-year retrospective.
To be available in August online and at the Living Light Gallery, Foster’s new book, his second, is an extensive collection of images shot over two decades, which he hopes will express his love and appreciation for Taos and Northern New Mexico. Foster said he hopes the book will also inspire others to get in touch with and possibly rekindle their own love affair with Taos.
“Over 20 years I have gotten so much from this place and these people, and this is in part a way of giving back and of leaving something substantial. And I wanted the book to be substantial, in terms of size, content and quality. You only get to do a retrospective like this once, I wanted it to be something to document and honor my time here,” Foster explained.
Reflecting on his life in Taos since moving from Washington, D.C. in 1993, Foster expresses himself in a vocabulary of love, appreciation and reflection one might expect from an eastern sage abiding in a deep awareness that life’s gifts of time, place and relationships are precious, at least partly because they are also impermanent.
Anyone who knows Foster, or is familiar with his fine-art photography, will surely consider “Enchanted Land” a faithful expression of this living Taos legend’s communion with the land, its people and culture. Selecting images from two decades of photographing the magic of Northern New Mexico has been for Foster a challenging two-year self-assignment. “It was not a linear thing,” Foster explained. “There is life to deal with, gallery things, family things, and just not always being in the mental space for it.”
Explaining the motivation behind “Enchanted Land,” Foster recalled early on in his photographic life here in Taos how he drew inspiration from a monograph produced some 50 years earlier representing the work of Tina Modotti. Modotti was an Italian actress and photographer mentored by early photographic great Edward Weston. “Perhaps some day ‘Enchanted Land’ can inspire someone else,” Foster said, adding that the selection of his works is also his effort to document and honor what living in Taos has meant for him.
After touring the Southwest in 1993 on an extended vacation with a friend from Washington, D.C., Foster returned to working long hours as a sales manager at a car dealership. One day Foster was in his office leafing through an issue of Arizona Highways. Viewing the images of the colorful, expansive landscapes, Foster had a flashback to a time when, as a young boy, he covered the walls of his bedroom with pictures taken from issues of Arizona Highways. “I have got to go,” Foster said to himself. Within three months he traded his car for a pickup truck. Two months after “trading up” to a truck, he was living in Taos.
As a going away gift, Foster’s sister gave him a copy of “The Picture Takin’ Man,” a biography of James Van Der Zee, a leading Harlem Renaissance photographer. “I love that title, ‘Picture Takin’ Man,’” Foster said with a broad smile and a soft chuckle that many in Taos have come to know and love.
A few years earlier, Foster had begun to photograph all of the natural world he could find in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Foster also made pictures on his extended trip to the Southwest. Some of the images he sold to friends in D.C. By his own admission, though, Foster’s growth as a photographer whose images can communicate feeling and evoke emotion has been a journey in itself, and one with challenges, periods of questioning, breakthroughs, and many unexpected graces.
About settling into Taos and being transformed by the experience, Foster said, “You have to die these little deaths, because who you were and how you were won’t necessarily work here in New Mexico. I think it takes a while to get the rhythm of this place. I’ve learned to float downstream instead of trying to swim upstream.”
To support himself early on, Foster worked at a number of part-time jobs—driving a van for a treatment center, working in a gallery, photographing for a rafting company and selling art cards through local stories and galleries. Eventually he was hired as a produce manager at Cid’s grocery store. His employer could see, though, that Foster’s passion was somewhere else.
“After kindly asking me to leave, they gave me a severance check, a hug and a kiss. That was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me,” Foster said, reflecting on his departure from the grocery business. “I realized that if I was going to support myself here I needed to find something more than $7 an hour jobs.”
Having already developed at least some passive income selling cards, and with more work coming his way photographing weddings and events, Foster decided to “do more of what I had been doing with my camera.”
One evening, Foster presented images he had recently made in West Africa to a gathering of friends and photography enthusiasts. Later that night, he found himself standing out under the stars wondering about his future. Looking up at the vast expanse of space, he yearned for a visible sign, a firm nudge in one direction or another.
“If you want me to commit myself to photography, give me a sign,” he asked. Moments later, across the night sky streaked a shooting star. As Foster explains it, that night he went to sleep a picture taker, but in the morning he woke up a photographer.
Devoting himself to his passion paid off, but slowly. “People would ask, ‘Where can I see your work?’ And I would tell them, ‘Well, I’ve got some in my truck.’ And I would take it out and show people.”
Eventually, a friend convinced Foster that he and his work deserved a proper gallery space. “I could believe that about the work, but not about myself, he said, adding, “At that point, it was the biggest thing I had ever done for myself.” Foster has since moved twice into larger gallery spaces, and each time, though risky, the move has been successful.
From where does Foster draw his inspiration today? Largely, he said, from raising his young son, Suni, with his partner, Naomi. “Suni has made the last five years of my life more real, more rich, more true, because he sees beauty and wonder and amazement in everything.”
Asked to explain his hopes for how “Enchanted Land” will be received, Foster said, “Maybe this will help convey the love I have for this place, and maybe it will help others get in touch with their own love for this place. Now is no time to take anything for granted. Every step, every breath is the most precious.”
Foster will host a reception at the Living Light Gallery Saturday evening, Sept. 3. The gallery is located in historic downtown Taos at 107 Kit Carson Road, just steps from Taos Plaza.
TAOS MAGAZINE | AUGUST 2016