Interview - Faith Couch

My Love and I, 2019

Faith Couch, originally from Durham, NC is a Photographer currently based in Baltimore, MD. Working predominantly with photography and video art, her work highlights themes dealing with race, gender, sexuality, and nationality. She has exhibited work at New Image Art Gallery in Los Angeles with Theresa Chromati and Derrick Adams, The ICP in New York, The Nasher Museum at Duke in Durham, NC, and the Aperture Foundation amongst other spaces. Couch joined Founder of Redefining Our Womanhood, Kailyn Lynch, to explore selfhood, the relationship between art and healing, and the power of imagination.

KL: So, if you want to get started, would you mind telling me a bit about yourself? You mentioned growing up in North Carolina. How was that growing up for you, and your family?

FC: So originally I'm from Durham, North Carolina; which is a very unique place. I think a lot of times people think of the Carolinas do think that North Carolina and South Carolina are synonymous. And I think what separates their history are some very significant things. North Carolina has a very rich history for Black people being very independent and making their own ways and making their own outlets. its Durham has its own Black newspapers still to this day. So, having a very rich history and just growing up, I was super proud of being Black. Both of my parents are from North Carolina. I have seven siblings, and we’ve kind of my parents… they’ve always been a huge part of my identity. And they've always just kind of let me do whatever I wanted to do. I never felt like there was anything that I couldn't do, have, or achieve. And that's really from them just kind of having this ideology that I can do whatever I want to do. So, I think that's really clearly affected my persona; how I grew up kind of fearlessly, and always trying to tackle anything that was in front of me. So even from a very young age, I always was painting and drawing and my parents basically took off of work when I was born so that they could just basically be around me.

KL: Wow, that’s beautiful. I even see that on your platform. Even in your art as well… The significance of your family… your parents. So, it's just, it's beautiful that you connected to that. Can you explain your awakening as an artist? I know you briefly mentioned your parents pouring into that. Can you tell us how you got started in your artwork?

FC: When I was little, I painted a lot. I had an uncle, he was really my godfather who always took pictures. He was like our family documentarian. And I think my parents always have photo albums, because there's so many kids and so much history before us. So as a kid, I'm going through photo albums and I think that's kind of where I started to develop how I saw color, and how I studied gestures. I looked at shapes and the interactions. That was my first introduction to understanding Black aesthetics. I think looking at how Black people are interacting with each other. That is in my subconscious. I felt was different from any other art medium. Unlike painting and drawing and lithographs or whatever it may be. Photography was able to act as a historical document. And it was also able to confirm the truth in a way that paintings cannot, because photographs give people a visceral feeling that is very different psychologically, mentally and emotionally.

A Place Unknown, 2016

Political, 2016

KL: I completely agree with that. Thank you for sharing. I really want to talk about the Black artist movement right now. I know you recently joined the See In Black Project, which is a collective of Black artists raising funds to provide to organizations rooted in the advancement of Black people. How are you feeling about the Black new Renaissance movement that's happening right now?

FC: I think that it is really awesome, and at the same time… I was kind of running through this article that Henry Louis Gates wrote. The article talks about whose canon is it any way? And he is bringing into question is our imagination and our vision being subdued by whiteness? Are we really able to create without being infiltrated by white ideology? And that makes me think about reasoning. It makes me think about how we view ourselves, and are we regurgitating imagery of Black people that has already been created by white people? How do we separate these indexes and images that are negative and create our own? Is that even possible? I think that because of part of the history we need to teach has to be the history of the canon. You know, like if you go to art school, you have to study the canon. And I think when you go to art school or you're studying art one function of history is to kind of conceal the connections between institutionalized interests and, and the literature and the art that we remember. So, we always think that we are making new work, but it's really just... being co-opted. So sometimes I think that like Black women photographers don't really get the recognition that they deserve. And I think in a Black Renaissance is still very patriarchal, and still highlighting Black men at the top and their eye; which is great, but I feel like it's still parallel with our own civil rights movement. Which is always Black men that are at the forefront. They’re the ones that always get uplifted while Black women are the ones doing the lifting. It’s cool that we're getting covers and all that, but I think it's also time to hire Black women photographers. We're not seeing a lot of Black women photographers get hired in the same fervor that Black men are. I'm happy for all of us, but that's just been something that I have observed.

KL: I love parallel you made with even, you know, the revolution movement going on right now and has been going on for, you know, forever at this point. I think of something that I kind of been thinking about with both, you know, the art movement and just the civil rights movement we're dealing with right now is, is the answer maybe separating and, you know, Black women and Black femmes creating their own spaces and their own worlds in their own systems.

FC: I think it's doing what you're doing right now. You know, like you've created your own platform to uplift and to amplify Black women, because it seems that if we don't do the work nobody else is willing to do it for us. And that's kind of unfortunate, because we're always doing the work for everybody. Not just Black men; not just Black women... everybody else too, you know? So, it's like the only way that we're going to get uplifted is through and by each other.

KL: As you mentioned previously, I created this space and hopes for Black women, especially, and just marginalized people to kind of create our own world and understanding the power. We have to create our own systems in our own world. So how would you for your own personal self, how would you define your freedom enjoying? What does that look like to you in your own world? Whether it be through your art, your personal life.

FC: I get a lot of joy from helping people become autonomous. And I think photography is important to me for that reason because I want Black people, no matter what age they are, to see my work be transformed and transport into a new space where they can think about different possibilities. Even because I think color does that. That's why I don't try to use a lot of symbols or indexes, but just plain color and light and sun. So we can think about these fairytales that we make up in our heads and think about the; the folklore. I've been writing about my work and talking about our Black memory landscape. That's what I want my photography to trigger for Black people, no matter where they're coming from, that they're able to see themselves in this picture. And I think when you're little and someone's reading to you a story book I want it to be that same experience. That you are autonomous. And thinking about new possibilities about yourself. I want them to get that. That little seed planted that lets them know that you, you can be this…this is what a part of your future can look like, or a part of your life that it doesn't have to be everything you see on the news. I think in this time where Black people are so bombarded and consuming images of death… it takes toll on our bodies. And just given us anxiety. Some people have told me that they don't really sleep well. We've been consuming these images for hundreds of years and it's in our DNA. Just in these photos I want to remind people that we are autonomous… that this is the space that we can exist. We can still dream. We can still have these fantastical images of ourselves. And they are true in the same breath. My younger sister and I were talking about the need for just like regular Black romantic comedies again. And now we just need the movies about Black people just like doing regular stuff. No one has no one has to die or go to jail. We also live normal lives, and it can have fantasy in it. That’s what we need to see.

Care Free Black Girls, 2017

Being, 2018

Kl: I also just have this really strong connection to our imagination. For me, very similar to you, at a young age art was always very intuitive. For me, it was just a way to understand there's a life outside of the cards I was dealt. And I think that's such a huge part of healing for Black people; especially, it's like, I think art and creativity, and whether it be through creating or consuming, is such a healing, powerful tool so thank you for sharing that.

FC: I think that's so true. I think that's really amazing what you're doing because it's so credible. Yes. Especially right now, but Black people, like I can only speak for us, but our nature is to create. That's just who we are. Whether it's music or dance or art; that's just how we've always survived. You know, that's, that's just so innate to our being,

KL: Right. So it can't be left out of the conversation of mental health. And unfortunately, you know, mental health has been presented through such a white lens. And right now, especially, you know, mental health and wellness is so trendy it's kind of as if healing can be purchased in a way. I really want us to disconnect from that.

FC: Right. Creating a space for us is so important. I feel like that is what’s going to really separate us from the generations that came before us. You know, their parents, are parents and grandparents… I've been raised as not really talking about how they feel. They were saying we'll just pray, you know, that's fine. But you also might need to go to therapy or explore other options.

KL: You mentioned you would like your work and your storytelling to be a way that, especially for Black women and Black femmes, to connect to a sense of imagination and sparking that. For you, how has your process as an artist even and your work, how has that contributed to your own self-preservation and care?

FC: I feel like, honestly, I wouldn't make art I would just become depressed and sad; confused because my process of making a photograph is so important to me. I don't try to force myself to make work. A lot of my work it's about studying history. It's about looking at music; it's cycle of a mind map. It's about looking at drawings. I listen to folk music… kind of reaching back into our own canon of things that we created as Black people. Looking at gestures, and family photographs from different people. I watch films and I write…I have to write. So, to me, it's kind of like doing math and the last part of the equation is making a photograph. So, when I collaborate with people, it's really about that kind of community. Even when I make images with my partner it's really about communicating, and observing the people that I'm working with to make sure they're as comfortable as possible. And if that takes an hour, two hours, three days… if that means we're going to sit down and have conversations for days I'm going to do that, because it's about that realness that I'm trying to capture. I think that's an important part about my work is that my process is about making community, and then the photograph is the last part; so it takes time, you know? I never want to rush anything because I don't feel that it's authentic. It’s about capturing what is real.

Follow Faith Couch on Instagram for updates, and her artwork here.

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