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Growing up Black in America: Rashod Taylor's photos are inspired by history

Rashod Taylor with wife, Marianne, and son, LJ
Michele Skalicky
Rashod Taylor with wife, Marianne, and son, LJ

This week, our 10-part Sense of Community Series, "Living Through Art," explores local residents who express their identities through various art forms.

Photographer Rashod Taylor appreciates history, and that fascination with the past is reflected in the photographs he creates. Some photos taken by the 37-year-old have the look of moments in time captured long ago.

Residents in the Ozarks got the chance to view Taylor’s work when it was featured recently at Q Enoteca during the kickoff for C-Art, a public art exhibition on Commercial Street. The relatively new Springfieldian was there to warmly greet attendees coming through the doors to see his photographs.

An early interest in photography

Taylor moved to southwest Missouri from Bloomington, Illinois with his wife, Marianne, and son, LJ, less than a year ago. He earned an art degree with a specialization in fine art photography from Murray State University. But he didn’t set out to study photography. In fact, he started out as a finance major after earning a scholarship to the Kentucky school.

But a photography professor took Taylor aside and told him he had talent, prompting him to switch gears. He says he’s always had an interest in the art form.

“Growing up, I was always into my mom’s and dad’s photo albums, so going through photo albums, and you know, I was just really enthralled by that. And then, with school, I was in photography. So I started as a photographer in newspaper—photo editor for both the newspaper and yearbook in high school. And then it just kind of grew from there,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s day job is in the corporate world. He’s a local agency manager for an insurance company. He says he enjoys that work—but he makes sure to set aside time for his art.

Viewings across the U.S. and the world

Through both solo and group shows, Taylor's s work has been exhibited in many places, including Texas, Illinois, New York and London.

Taylor's photos have been featured in Essence, ProPublica and Buzzfeed. Tintypes he made of Black service members were published in National Geographic Magazine. The article in which his photos are featured is titled, “Old-fashioned images evoke the complicated history of Black military service.”

Taylor's series, 'Little Black Boy'

Providing a window into the Black American experience is Taylor’s goal.

And that’s what the photographer does in his series, Little Black Boy, which features his son, LJ.

A photo in the series, "Little Black Boy" by Rashod Taylor
Rashod Taylor
A photo in the series, "Little Black Boy" by Rashod Taylor

“Through the work I really want to show just Black family life, Black American life, just in a different light because I think that you don’t get to see some of the loving, tender moments, the vulnerabilities that are really normal I would say in just everyone’s life,” he said.

"From my perspective, you just don’t see that being celebrated or even really portrayed with media outlets, galleries, wherever. You just don’t see positive viewpoints on just everyday life from a Black perspective.”

Taylor began photographing his son when LJ was about three years old.

Photos in the series depict the young boy hiding under a blanket, swimming with his parents, lounging on the grass, and sleeping on the couch with his father resting beside him.

Some have hidden meanings as suggested by their titles.

"It's Complicated," a photo in Rashod Taylor's series, "Little Black Boy."
Rashod Taylor
"It's Complicated," a photo in Rashod Taylor's series, "Little Black Boy."

In one, LJ sits on a porch looking down at an American flag in his hands. In the glass door behind him is a reflection of LJ’s father looking down on his son. The photo, taken in 2020, is titled, “It’s Complicated.”

Taylor says there's a historical significance to that photo and others.

"‘It’s Complicated’ just kind of hearkens back to American history and being Black in America—and that picture is referencing Fourth of July,” he said. “You have Fourth of July where it’s a celebration of American independence, which is great—you know, I’m proud to be an American, but at the same time, people that look like me weren’t free in 1776.”

Taylor loves being a father. His eyes light up when he talks about his son. But he said that joy is tempered by the concern he has raising a Black son in a world that still has a lot of work to do to overcome racism.

Part of raising LJ includes teaching his son lessons his parents taught him as he was growing up, he says, “whether they be fair or not."

"Like, 'Hey, don’t wear a hoodie at night.' [Or] 'Put your hands on the steering wheel when a police officer [pulls you over],'" he said. "I mean, even things that people think are not a big deal are very a big deal in some cases for us.”

Taylor's style evokes times past

Taylor calls his style “old school.” He photographs using a large format camera, which he said makes him focus on composition and light. Ninety percent of “Little Black Boy” was shot in large format 4X5 film.

And he loves the look of black and white, which he said “simplifies everything.”

He also enjoys working with wet plate, which makes modern photos look old. He learned the process from photographer Dale Bernstein in Indianapolis in 2012.

He likes the fact that he can have an ambrotype or tin type in his hands in about 20 minutes, and he appreciates the technique’s place in history “because it’s the second photographic process behind daguerreotypes, so popular—came around 1850s, probably popularized up until 1880s, 1890s,” said Taylor. “So, in that time of history you have, you know, the Civil War, right? So, you look at all the Civil War pictures, and those are mostly tin types or glass plates or what not, and so that was interesting to me, too, and they just have this look and this feel that you can’t really compare. It’s when you see one in person it kind of just takes your breath away.”

Taylor teaches workshops on wet plate now, and he hopes to eventually offer some in Springfield.

Meanwhile, he’ll continue to create. He plans to keep adding to the series, “Little Black Boy,” although he said the series might take different directions as LJ gets older.

Taylor hopes his photos will continue to not only give people a different way of looking at things but also a sense of hope.

“I mean, because obviously we live in an interesting world these days, right?” he said. “There’s a lot of division, and I don’t know. I just want people to get out of it just the hope and love and tenderness and then really also what it is to grow up Black in America for my son.”

You can view Rashod Taylor’s photographs at rashodtaylor.com.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.