Steph Foster

Stinnett Philadelphia Museum of Art Collection Award Winner

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Brand, 2018
Video, 2m 55s

Libation, 2018
Video, 2m 2s

Steph Foster (lives Philadelphia, PA) is an interdisciplinary artist specializing in photography, with interests in video, installations, music, digital fabrication, sculpture and performance. His recent work combines sounds and music with visual media to tell stories of mass incarceration and reconciliation within urban communities. In 2018, Foster participated in the Steinhardt Summer Studio Residency at New York University. In 2019, he presented and performed at the Design Indaba Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. He has been invited as a visiting artist to Boston University; Michigan State University, East Lansing; and Brown University, Providence. Foster holds a BA in Studio Art from Michigan State University and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence. He is a recipient of the 2019 Snider Prize from the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago and the T.C. Colley Award for Photographic Excellence from RISD. Foster teaches as an AICAD Post-Graduate Teaching Fellow in the photography department at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia.

Statement from the Artist:
The Eyes Beneath the Oak, a multimedia project by Steph Foster, features a collection of mixed media artworks that speak to, without defining, the American black experience. These artworks bring to the foreground the deliberate and systematic exploitation of black bodies, especially pertaining to the legacy of slavery and its relationship to mass incarceration. Bondage and economic exploitation have long been hallmarks of white supremacy, and this project offers a unique look into the world of prison trade shows, monuments of slavery turned into tourist attractions, and the commercialization of incarceration through the bail bonds industry. 

This is a project inspired by my family, and our collective and individual negotiations of my aunt’s incarceration for the last eight years. The aim of this thesis is to excavate the systems and legacies of oppression through analysis of the systems themselves. My goal is to frame these personal narratives within the larger contexts of racism, slavery, surveillance, and capitalism opposed to the continued imagery of more black faces in orange jumpsuits.


A Closer Look at Bottle Blessing, 2019

This photograph captures the ritual known as “bottle blessing.” Those gathered place their hands on the bottle before drinking in memory of a deceased loved one. This is one of many moments captured in Steph Foster’s “The Eyes Beneath the Oak”. This series explores the effects of contemporary mass incarceration on individuals, families and communities, as well as its connection to the history of slavery and capitalism in the United States. The “eyes” in its title gestures to the pervasive power of surveillance – as defined by the panopticon of 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The “oak” refers to the Louisiana Live Oaks, a type of tree common in the southern American landscape where Foster has photographed since 2017.