MEET Sonja Foster: A layoff knocks the wind out of some people, but not Sonja Foster. After being laid off in May 2012, Sonja decided to pursue a new career, one that positioned her to help people heal as their loved ones reached the end of their physical journey. That pursuit led Sonja to launch Foster Farewell Photography the following August. Foster Farewell Photography (FFP) specializes in providing quality funeral and hospice photography, video, and streaming services. Sonja used skills she learned while working as an editorial assistant and, later, as a photo editor to build her business. Foster holds a master’s of photography in visual communication from Ohio University and is the National Association of Black Journalists’ Visual Task Force chair. Her goal is to be the premier photographer in the niche funeral and hospice markets.
Madame Noire: Why did you found Foster Farewell Photography?
Sonja Foster: I was downsized in May 2012 from Bloomberg Government. We were warned that the change was coming; I started to think
more about what I wanted to do next. The idea of founding Foster Farewell Photography had been in my mind for about eight years. A series of events helped me to make my decision.
For example, I’m originally from Hampton, VA. A few years ago, the pastor at the church I attended in Virginia passed away; he was a prominent man. At the funeral, I noticed that people were taking pictures, even videotaping the event. Add to this the fact that at my first newspaper job as an editorial assistant I typed obituaries for six years. At the same time, I was going to college to get my bachelor’s in English, and, later, my master’s with a specialization in visual communication. All said, it’s interesting how everything has been happening. Now, I’m here. I don’t think it all happened by chance; I know it’s very purposeful.
MN: Whitney Houston’s funeral was an elaborate event that attracted the attention of millions. Are African American funerals (although not as large as Whitney Houston’s) normally elaborate experiences?
SF: I watched Whitney Houston’s funeral from start to finish. There was a lot of media, and certainly there were a lot of celebrities, but I don’t think her funeral was elaborate. Funerals in New Orleans are elaborate to me. At New Orleans funerals, people sing, dance, play trumpets. They are very lively. And, of course, elaborate is subjective. I absolutely see a shift in how families bid farewell to their loved ones. I think digital photography is a part of this. Consider Facebook, smartphones, Instagram. People are taking pictures of everything. Cell phones are more technologically advanced, so we can snap and post quality pictures very easily. People are becoming more accepting of photography and video as a whole.
MN: What do you think is driving the trend of funeral homes developing “packages” that include photography and video?
SF: If you have a lot of people who can’t attend a funeral in person, they can watch the funeral via streaming. I think all of that is on the upswing. People are actually coming to funeral homes requesting photographs, videos, streaming, etc. Clearly, there has been more demand for these services, which is why some funeral homes are now including these services in their packages.
MN: In what specific ways can hospice and funeral pictures help grieving family and friends to heal?
SF: My mother passed in 2001; she lived with me the last three months of her life in an in-home hospice. I took pictures of her early on. With hospice, when you know that you may not have long with a person, having photographs of a loved one can offer great comfort. Also, after a person has transitioned, you can’t go back and make pictures of her or him. Once that opportunity is gone, it’s gone.
Taking pictures of loved ones in hospice or at a funeral can also give you a different perspective about the process. But, most importantly, funeral pictures are a record of how much that person was loved and by whom; how much they influenced others and their legacy.