Julianna Foster, a talented artist and InLiquid Member has focused most of her career on landscape photography and exploring how the individual image can transcend their limits.
Foster is currently an assistant professor in the Photography program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She received a BFA in Design from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2001) and an MFA in Book Arts + Printmaking from the University of the Arts (2006). She has been featured in a number of publications and exhibited work nationally and internationally throughout her career so far.
Today, we talked with Foster a bit further about her ongoing project, Geographical Lore. As Foster describes, "Geographical Lore is a series of photographic works that consider ways in which the natural world can be represented. The images are from documented landscapes where I have traveled across the United States. Specifically in California, Nevada, New Mexico, and most recently Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and along the east coast, focusing on forests, mountain ranges, the desert, waterways, and coastlines."
"The series consists of a combination of two-dimensional images like framed photographs, broadsides, light-boxes, and three-dimensional objects such as cut and manipulated photographs and artist books. They combine photographic images of the natural world and hand-made, assembled environments. The deliberate blend of the fabricated and the ‘Real’ images play with ideas of memory and representation."
InLiquid: It seems as though much of your work and career has focused on landscapes. How did you first become interested in this photographic genre, and how do you think it's shaped your ways of creating and thinking over the years as an artist?
JF: My beginnings in photography revolved around my interest in the darkroom and experimental processes that allowed me to manipulate photos I captured on film. Some images were of landscapes from where I lived in North Carolina, but most were of constructed, staged scenes that focused on storytelling through multiple photos. At the time, I was watching a lot of films. I would mimic or replicate particular scenes through my still images exploring linear/non-linear narratives with a hint of a surrealist approach due to the processes applied to the photos, like double exposure, bleaching and toning prints, and using various film camera formats.
This way of working led me to explore artist books and book structures. One of my first artist books was a series of photographs from a trip in the woods along the east coast. It showed a progression of the weed Kudzu as if it evolved, covering the existing architecture and landscape, morphing what lay beneath. Visually, I was captivated by this weed's resilience and abundant nature and how simultaneously it could appear so beautifully draped over the land yet destructive to the existing growth. The symbolic nature of this motivated me to continue documenting other landscapes and natural spaces, seeking out the differences between protected lands and wild growth areas over a specific time frame. Environmental issues were considered in this early work, however, I approached it less like a documentarian and more like an artist with creative curiosity.
InLiquid: I'm especially interested in the name of this project, "Geographical Lore," and how it plays a bit further into how you create pictorial narratives. Is there a larger story you think this series is telling? Has that story changed as you've continued to document and create?
JF: Geographical Lore is an ongoing series that started around 2019 after I spent some time on the west coast in California and later in New Mexico and Nevada. The photographs from these trips became source material for invented landscapes and imagined spaces that I created in the studio using a variety of prints and methods like overlaying, folding, cutting, incorporating 3D elements, and re-photographing the "built" image. The title refers to folklore and myths aligned with these constructed and envisioned lands; narrative plays a role in this series and is undoubtedly a 'thread' that holds the works together. The project tends to combine abstraction and representation without telling a direct story. Yet, the nuances unfold in ways as seen through portals, multi perspectives of mountain ranges and waterways, vistas, and astrological references like the moon phases and constellations, which all relate to time and our relationship with it. Mystical fascinations influence my studio decision-making. Over the years, I've become more deliberate with how I speak about environmental/climate concerns in the work. In a broad sense, the symbolic tear in the paper's surface or the building up and breaking into the photographic plane responds to the deterioration and erosion of our natural world that has occurred both by human interventions and natural occurrences or phenomena. Evidence that we are constantly changing, I'm likely attempting to preserve the photograph as an artifact of history in a story I have created.
InLiquid: Your travels have taken you to many different places and landscapes, including forests, mountain ranges, deserts, waterways, and coastlines. How are these specific landscapes and locations important to your overall project?
JF: I mostly travel in the continental US, primarily the west coast, western desert locations, and up and down the east coast, so far. My initial interest in photographing in California was the redwood forest and the magnitude of the old-growth forest. When I made it to New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona, the arid climate and the sheer beauty and history of how the sandstone landforms, canyons, and mesas were formed inspired me to document these incredible wonders. I had plans in 2020 to travel to Canada, Nova Scotia, but due to restrictions with the pandemic, I rescheduled and hope to go soon to document the Bay of Fundy. Biospheres and geographically historical places like coves, caves, water basins, and cliffs embedded with fossils in the basin in Nova Scotia, where the Cobequid–Chedabucto fault emerged, has piqued my interest recently. The magma solidified into igneous rocks, visible on Brier Islands and other regions surrounding Fundy Bay, is the intended location for new documentation. In these areas, precious minerals and gems like agate, stilbite, and amethyst are abundant in Nova Scotia and coastal regions which is a unique territory to explore, with the potential to cause some shifts in my work. Time will tell.
InLiquid: Tell me more about your process for creating the work in this series. Do you go into an environment with an idea of what the final product will look like, or do the ideas and endings evolve as you create?
JF: My process is two-fold, recording with my camera and then responding to these images while in the studio. Firstly, I want to experience the places I visit, not just document them. Regarding photographing on location, I trust in my intuition and curiosity to guide how I record. The challenge is to disseminate my ideas into physical form once back in the studio and reflect on the experience of being present while witnessing the ecology and geological wonders of places like Arches and Zion National Park in Utah, Red Rock Canyon, and the Sangre de Cristo Range, for instance. Recently, I've been inclined to move toward coastlines as I often think about the rhythm of tides. Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon. As I experiment with materials in the studio environment, I consider what the materials are capable of and how each move or gesture has a meaning.
InLiquid: Are there any people or projects that are a source of inspiration to this series and your overall body of work?
JF: Currently, these artists/writers have caught my eye:
Visual artists: Tacita Dean, Sarah Sze, Ana Mendieta Olafur Eliasson, Nancy Holt, Graciela Iturbide, and I keep going back to the photographer, Lee Miller (Portrait of Space)
Writers: Zadie Smith, Legacy Russell, Katy Hessel (The Story of Art Without Men), Teju Cole, Italo Calvino
InLiquid: Your work focuses on our environment and the effect of humans on the environment. So as we see our societies and lives shift due to climate change, how do you see your work changing?
JF: That's a big question.
I'm paying attention to the experts and photojournalists reporting on our climate crisis and environmental issues. The Earth's ecology is in critical condition due to natural and anthropogenic change. I'm not an expert on this; I interpret and respond with work that I hope raises questions.