Taylor is an award winning photographer based in Chicago. His work focuses on conceptual and portrait photography – often times with a bizarre and comical twist. He’s worked with top advertising and editorial clients ranging from Nike, Hilton, Pepsi, Canon, Mars, and Ally Bank to E.S.P.N. The Magazine, New York Times, Fortune, Fast Company, and Men’s Journal.
Taylor’s style is a blend of dark humor and everyday hilarity. Even when he’s trying to be serious, he can’t help but find an excuse to laugh. Laid back and detail oriented, Taylor creates a fun environment on set and encourages everyone around him to play a part in the creative process. He believes his best work comes when the spirit of collaboration is omnipresent.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer? I was a sophomore in high school, taking my first photography and film making classes. My friends and I were getting way into Terry Gilliam movies which was really having a huge impact on my creativity, imagination and extra curricular activities. At the same time, my photo teacher showed us a Jerry Uelsmann documentary, which just blew my mind. I started to gravitate more towards still photography, especially black and white, and by my senior year of high school I knew it was what I wanted to pursue.
What formal schooling or training (if any) did you have in photography? I started at Columbia College in Chicago my freshman year of college. I basically just took pictures of my friends smoking weed in our dorm bathroom and a lot of crappy alleys. To be honest, I lost a lot of my motivation for photography at this time and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do anymore.
I decided to move out West for a girl and settled in Eugene, Oregon. I took an intro to studio lighting class at Lane Community College which revived my interest and reignited my passion. Totally green, I started working for my processor as an assistant, which led to an introduction to a pretty successful architectural photographer in Oregon. I assisted him for six months or so on a variety of gigs, and gained a solid technical foundation and critical insight to the commercial photo realm. In that time he got me interested in his alma mater, Brooks Institute of Photography, which seemed like the ideal place for me to hone my skills. I moved to Santa Barbara to attend Brooks, which lasted off and on for about three years before I decided to quit school entirely and move back to Chicago to open my own studio.
Were your parents supportive of your desire to be an artist? Absolutely. I was raised by a single mother who was a very happy and successful interior designer. She loved her job and cherished the creative outlet it provided her, so she has been nothing but supportive of my endeavors throughout my entire career.
Your Dark Humor Gallery has so many images that tell an entire story with just a single frame. Where do your ideas for these shots come from?It’s a bit of a mixed bag, I guess. I really love to satirize current events, fads, and political/religious/social issues. These ideas just sort of come naturally and can be the byproduct of something I read, hear or see. I try to write things down in my little idea Diary (iPhone) the second I think of it. These can be loose thoughts, or something much more developed and concrete. I also get a great deal of inspiration from design and illustration. I love the simplicity and open-ended concepts you often find within it. I really strive to make my conceptual photography function in the same way. I love basic messaging, simple humor, and giving the viewer a path for them lead the narrative.
You have the gift of being a comedian without ever speaking a word. How do you find the comedy in everyday situations? I’m a pretty sarcastic dude by nature, so I often find great joy and humor in how I react to and engage with everyday occurrences. I’m actually rather shy in public, so I love me some people watching and eavesdropping. A lot of the characters I create in my work are manifestations of these observations in fact.
Based on the images found on your website it looks like you have a lot of fun when shooting. Do you find it hard to be really serious when behind the lens? You know I sometimes try to force myself to be the serious guy on set, and it never goes well. When I’m on an assignment I’m very focused on what I have to do and how I have to do it. I really believe that my work is an extension of my personality, so If I’m not being myself, I’m not doing my job to the best of my ability. I know that my energy is infectious to everyone I’m surrounded by and that in turn helps create the atmosphere where I do my best directing. There certainly are times where I need to crack the whip a little bit, but for the most part, I’m pretty fun and goofy guy.
Some portrait photographers believe that they need to provide all the direction for the shoot while others prefer collaboration with their subjects. Which style works best for you and why? Both, and I sort of feel it out as I go. It’s important for me that we’re all on the same page before even starting. I always ask for the talent’s input and try to riff off it to see what can come about organically. If I’m working with skilled actors or comedians it’s definitely more collaborative, and I really thrive in that design. Professional models can be great too, but often times they’re so used to doing it one way. I usually have to work a little bit harder to break them of that mold, and to get them to understand the uniqueness of what I’m attempting to create compared to some of the routine work they’re more accustomed to doing.
You have portraits that were taken in studio and others taken on location. Do you have a preference as to which environment you are shooting? Not really. I’m much more calm shooting in the studio, but I also find that I get stifled easier as well. Shooting on location brings so many variables and the chaos of it all can be vexing, but my mind is working much faster and ideas can sometimes just flood in. I’m a pretty calculated shooter, and love to have complete control of my variables, so the studio is my sanctuary. But I also love the unexpected quirks that come with shooting in uncontrollable environments.
Do you find that shooting outside the studio gives you more options for creativity? Yes, It certainly can, but It really depends on the environment, who I’m shooting, and how much time I have to shoot outtakes. I don’t enjoy a rushed production, so I’m much more prone to simplify my options rather than expand on them if I’m not in my comfort zone. A tech scout is always preferred so that I can come in with a solid strategy, pre-visualize my shoot, and start to generate other ideas before I even show up on set.
What advice would you share with aspiring photographers coming into the industry? Be confident, be fearless, and be hungry. Find what you love, and keep shooting it. Figure out your weaknesses and make them strengths. Study the history of your art, and stay current with where it is lives today. And for the love of god hashtag everything.
What motivates you to get up each morning and shoot? Dark roasted coffee and a breakfast burritos.
As a Chicagoan, do you think this is finally the year that the Chicago Cubs will win their first World Series since 1908? Yes. Absolutely. It’s happening. There’s no way we are not going to win this year. Nothing can stop us. It’s definitely our year.
What does the perfect Taylor Castle day look like? A toddler who is super excited to get up and go to day care, and agrees with every outfit decision I make for him. A bid request in my inbox when I get to the studio. Maybe a corned beef Reuben for lunch. A surprise royalty check in the mail in the afternoon. A 72º walk along Lake Michigan. Tacos for dinner, and 2 episodes of Game of Thrones for dessert.
How important is your website to the success of your business? It’s paramount. It’s what drives almost every opportunity I get. I don’t get hired because I have a cool name. I stay busy because I work hard to create good work. My website is the conduit to my vision, my passion, and my brand.
Why did you choose Photo Folio for your website? Wonderful functionality, smart design, great customization options, powerful SEO capabilities, ease of use on the backend, and most importantly how beautiful my photography is displayed on the site. The support staff has been stellar as well and handle all of my stupid questions and requests so graciously.
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