Photographer Dede Pickering '71: Shooting from the Heart

From the moment Dede Pickering approached the podium for her Helen Cudahy Niblack '42 Arts Lecture, the audience was rapt. As photos of her days at Foxcroft, her travels immediately after her graduation, and her many, many trips since filled the big screen in the Engelhard Gym, Pickering took the community on a candid journey from unhappy teenager, begging Foxcroft not to accept her during her interview, all the way to the present moment and her current service on Foxcroft’s Board of Trustees. In between, a different sort of education opened her eyes to a long list of social issues percolating in the 1970s: apartheid, injustice, disease, misgovernment, corruption, poverty, slavery, lack of education, and gender and racial inequality. Pickering explains, “What I saw during the summer of 1971 was always on my mind and the more I travelled the more I realized that the social challenges I witnessed were not exclusive to Africa -- they were global.”
Though it took some time to figure out how, Pickering was determined to make a difference. As it turns out, even as she pursued a more typical life in the US -- college, marriage, home in the 'burbs, work in the city -- she was able to combine her love of travel to the most remote spots in the world to document the plight of some of the most marginalized communities with her desire to be an agent of change when she began to volunteer for CARE, an NGO dedicated to fighting global poverty. Pickering founded the Women’s Initiative there, which worked to get women in the US to help women in developing countries. “During my travels I thought I was communicating with the people of these countries through the lens of my camera, but what I found was much more profound. Wherever I went one constant remained -- I photographed women and children, over and over again. I felt a personal and intimate connection with them.” Her work with CARE gave purpose to the compelling images she had captured in the 30 years of travels since her graduation from Foxcroft.

“Yes, you heard that right….30 years!” Pickering said to the girls, “So don’t give up if you don’t get it right the first, second, or third time. Keep going and your life will come together perhaps when you least expect it.”

Surprisingly, Pickering does not have a degree in photography. “I simply shoot from the heart,” she says. “After all a compelling photograph comes from within. . . from having something of yourself worth expressing. I try to engage with the world though my creativity and passion for photography. Camera in hand, I document hope and despair as well as the beauty of the world.”

Her images span 100 countries and some of the most remote spots on earth. To get a taste of what the community enjoyed, visit her website: www.dedepickering.com.

At the end of her talk, Pickering offered the following advice:

“Today I stand before you, 45 years after graduating from Foxcroft, in a place that feels like home, hopefully inspiring you to follow your heart and your dreams. As I look at each and every one of you I realize that you are empowering me to hold my head high and stay on my path. Life is a journey and the road is rarely straight but your Foxcroft friends will carry you through as they have me. Within each of us is so much possibility. Your life will unfold in ways you never imagined, as did mine. Go beyond your limits. Don’t be afraid. Never stop exploring, questioning, and looking for new creative endeavors! See who emerges, over the years, as you walk down the winding road of life. Don’t rush. Be on the look out for your own happiness. Dare to dream big. Dare to fail and dare to create the life you want!”

As she finished, the entire Foxcroft community rose to its feet to give Pickering a rousing standing ovation, tears in more than a few eyes.

After her presentation (the full text of which you can read online), she joined the Photography classes where she was peppered with questions about her travels, what kind of equipment she uses to capture her stunning images, her favorite places in the world, and everything in between.

This remarkable day was made possible by the Helen Cudahy Niblack '42 Arts Lecture Series, which was established in 2007 by Austi Brown '73 in honor of her mother. Its purpose is to introduce Foxcroft students to a wide range of artists, hear about their artistic journeys, and inspire students to follow their own artistic dreams. Over the years, the Series has brought a variety of literary, performing, and fine artists to Foxcroft to share their work, stories, and perspective on the nature of the creative process with both students and the larger community.
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An all-girls boarding and day school in Northern Virginia, Foxcroft prepares young women in grades 9-12 for success in college and in life. Our outstanding academic program offers challenging courses, including Advanced Placement classes and an innovative STEM program. Our premiere equestrian program is nationally recognized, and our athletic teams have won conference and state championships. Experience the best in girls' boarding schools: visit Foxcroft.