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Self-portrait, I Am Black © H Eugene Foster

H Eugene Foster has been an instructor at the world-renowned International Center of Photography for more than two decades, during which time he saw the industry transition from analog to digital. Today, in addition to his role at ICP, he offers one-on-one instruction with a focus on digital photography using Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Lightroom. He is also one of our judges for the 7th Annual Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards.

As a photographer himself, Foster currently has multiple projects in progress, including I Am Black: Translations. As part of the documentary exhibition and book project, the artist invites people to sit for a portrait, at home or in the environment of their choice, while submitting their personal definitions of what they mean when they say, “I Am Black.” Every sitter receives their portrait as it will appear in the exhibition.

We asked Foster to tell us more about his work.

Nayland B, I am Black © H Eugene Foster

You’ve been an instructor at the International Center of Photography for more than 20 years. What advice would you give to emerging photographers in 2021? 

“If you are an emerging photographer with a body of, at least twenty cohesive images, you should seek out as many venues as possible. Post your work where ever you can: bars, restaurants, and of cause, the web. Show your work to whomever is sincerely interested. Don’t be shy. You never know who will be the one who can help you get to the next level.”

What are the most significant changes you’ve noticed during your time in the business?  

“The biggest change in the industry was the move from film imaging to digital imaging, which took place over a longer period of time than most people realize. in 1984, I was a student at The San Francisco Art Institute when the first Macintosh computer, with a truly graphic interface, hit the market. At around the same time, small shops opened where you could rent a workstation and have your film scanned so you could manipulate the images on a Mac. The images were horrible compared to now, but I found it fascinating to be able to see my pictures on a computer screen and manipulate the tonality.

“Over the years, the quality continued to get better. A few years later, Olympus cameras came out with the first auto-focus camera. It was the move towards electronic in cameras, and eventually digital. In the early ’90s, the web became popular, and the graphic interface of the Macintosh computer made it more so. Around the same time, Photoshop showed up. It was difficult to use in its beginnings; you only had one undo. If you didn’t fix the mistake right after you made it, you had to start over from the beginning. Today, we all know what a beautiful thing it is.

“A few years after Photoshop, Epson Ink-jet printers appeared, but it took many years to achieve the quality you now see with ink jet prints. Around the turn of the century, the first digital cameras appeared, which created a dramatic economic and often devastating shift in the film industry. Cherished b&w and color film began to disappear from the market. Many color film processing labs shut down. Many photographers working on long term film-based projects found it difficult to continue, especially if they were using b&w film. We were forced to switch to digital cameras. Today, instead of viewing images on printed paper, most viewing is done on digital displays and smart phones.”

Aswad F and family, I Am Black © H Eugene Foster

Please tell us about your documentary book and exhibition project, I Am Black: Translations. What inspired you to embark on this project?

“My inspiration for this project comes from my personal experience. It’s a long story, but I’ll try to make it short. My mother was half white, and she looked more white than Black. I witnessed, on several occasions, how angry she became when people questioned her about her race. She wanted to be recognized as a Black woman and was saddened when she was not.

“She told me her mother had died giving birth to her, but she never told me her mother was white. To me, she was just a light-skin Black woman. As I got older, I began to wonder why it was so important for her to be seen as Black. What did she mean when she said she was Black? This project comes from my desire to understand what it means to others when they say they are Black, and maybe I will get closer to understanding what it meant to her.”

Coney Island, Neither Rhyme Nor Reason © H Eugene Foster

Can you give us a sneak peek of any other projects you have on the horizon? 

“I am also working on another project which is a compilation of images I made, mostly, during the ’80s and ’90s. The title is Neither Rhyme Nor Reason. When you see the images, you will understand the title.”

What will you be looking for when judging submissions to this year’s Emerging Photography Awards, and what advice do you have for up-and-coming photographers?

“I’ll focus on technique, composition, and if a body of work is presented, consistency. If you are an emerging photographer with a body of, at least 20 cohesive images, you should seek out as many venues as possible. Post your work where ever you can: bars, restaurants, and of course, the web. Show your work to whomever is, sincerely, interested. Don’t be shy. You never know who will be the one who can help you get to the next level.”

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