“Search for what is good and strong and beautiful in your society and elaborate from there. Push outward. Always create from what you already have. Then you will know what to do.” — Michel Foucault.
Faith Couch’s journey as one of the artist’s shaping Baltimore burgeoning art scenes began with a fated rude awakening. Nurtured by her father’s good judgement, she recalls a priceless life lesson he delivered to her. “Growing up, my father told me that the best don’t always get to play.” Though this could be interpreted as a sign of a well-intentioned father’s skepticism, the premonition dared her to dream.
“The entirety of my life thus far is a representation of the phrase. It’s tough being a photographer in a white-dominated industry. The media is a mirror of the white gaze. The Black people highlighted in movies or TV shows or commercials play stereotypically subservient roles. Being a Black person working in white spaces doesn’t shelter you from the possibility of white people co-opting the idea of what blackness looks like. I see a lot of tropes surfacing in major publications.” Though she realized the industry is conditioned by structural barriers and inequality, that didn’t stop her from coloring outside the lines.
She cites her childhood as one of her earliest inspirations. Whilst most folks today would associate North Carolina with the big corporations that have since evolved it into a bustling city, Faith was shaped by the backdrop of a rich tumultuous history. “I grew up in Durham. There’s this uniqueness to Durham because it embodies the spirit of Black people who are proud of their heritage. There’s this resilience from our ancestors who found ways to create things from nothing. My work is that folklore that exists in the South that is rooted in our music and our art.”
In light of her early years growing up in the South, Faith’s decision to move to Baltimore to further her studies is unsurprising. Referring to it as her second home, her connection to the city was instantly organic. “Most people don’t think of Baltimore as the South because it teeters on the edge of being what some people think is Northern, but it’s really below the Mason Dixon line. New York is amazing. I’ve been in New York. I’ve been in LA. But there’s something about Baltimore that these other cities don’t have. The first thing I observed that separates Baltimore from other cities is that artists here will create regardless of whether they have a global audience or not. it’s good enough for them that they are seeing each other in their own communities.”
When asked what inspired one of her most popular series, “Carefree Black Girl,” her encounter in academia was illuminating. “I had just taken some art classes with my professor Ian Bourland who left a mark on me. I started appreciating how important it is to learn about art history. Coming out of the class, I’m thinking about a voyeuristic position in paintings that women are captured in. They lay down on a chaise lounge or in the grass and we see the curvature of their backs into their butts and legs as they’re laying out. But I didn’t want this series to objectify them. It’s about them turning their backs ‘cos they just don’t give a fuck. It’s about autonomy and them being in control of their bodies.” Her desire for authenticity was born.
To sustain this curiosity, she retreated further into her studies. “My work has been leaning towards creating my own cinematic universe. I’ve been watching a lot of films from the 50’s and 60’s where I’ve tried studying gesture in hopes of making my photos look like film stills. In My Love and I, I wanted to preserve the intimacy between my partner and I. There is so much richness in the mundane and that’s what I’m highlighting for Black people is we don’t have to be extraordinary or extravagant, super talented to justify our existence. I find the most beautiful gestures of us just being.”
Her most recent project BLACKSPACE: A MEMORY LANDSCAPE is an extension of that. “My work is made for Black people to consume. I’m thinking about what realism looks like to us so we can better understand ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we have to exist in poverty. It doesn’t mean that we have to exist in the wake of death. Appropriately, Black memory landscape, is this familiarity that connects Black people regardless of where they come from. When people see these images, I want them to embrace a fantasy outside of themselves and still be able to imagine a future overflowing with serenity and peace.
In a full-circle moment, it is now Faith’s turn to administer a dose of knowledge to those of us struggling to find our footing. “There is so much value within our communities that we don’t need a gold star of approval from white institutions. We can support and uplift each other.”
Check out Faith making HERstory in the 2021 Forbes 30 under 30 list here.