Cultural documentarian Candacy Taylor visits RCAH for Wednesday Night Live

Cultural documentarian Candacy Taylor joined the RCAH as the first WNL guest of the new semester. The 44-year-old artist uses elements of photography, writing and filmmaking in her work to capture and "re-present" a variety of American subcultures.

“I do more than just photography, more than just writing. Even though I love photography, it’s what I’m photographing that’s most important to me. The subject is really what I’m after,” Taylor said.

Through her work, Taylor has explored a range of these subcultures – from diner waitresses to female bullfighters, bingo players and hair stylists.

Taylor’s first project, Counter Culture, details the lives of “lifers” – diner waitresses aged 50 and older who have been in the business for more years than not. The idea for the project came to Taylor while she was working as a waitress herself.

The project started out as a book, but has since received attention from radio and television companies, including ABC.

Taylor said the content determines the type of media she uses.

“The old (diners) are just beautiful. I definitely knew I wanted to photograph that space,” Taylor said.

After Counter Culture came American Roots, a project that explores how hair is connected to American identity. Since 2007, Taylor has been working to document female bullfighters. She’s also working on a project called Bingo! which details the culture surrounding the game. More recently, she turned her attention toward a collaboration with the National Park Service, documenting the remaining “Green Book” sites – businesses along the famous Route 66 that were willing to serve traveling African Americans before the Civil Rights Act.

Despite the historical and cultural aspects of her work, Taylor prefers to keep her work outside the realm of academia.

“I don’t want to make work for people already thinking about this, because they’re already thinking about it,” she said. “I want to make work for people who don’t have the time to really think about it – how culture is re-presented and how the culture you live in you see through your own lens. If someone shows you a different perspective, it will hopefully widen your own identity.”

According to Taylor, the biggest challenge of being a cultural documentarian is finding funding.

“It’s hard because in so many ways, I’m so lucky,” Taylor said, referring to her experience working with publishers, television and radio outlets as well as the Library of Congress. “But at the same time, I think in our culture, because there’s so much content being produced and technology is so cheap, there’s this idea of if it’s a visual project, there’s no reason to pay for the content … I almost quit last year because I thought I was tired of struggling. But, once I got the Library of Congress grant and my work was being archived, I was like, ‘What else do I want, in terms of making a mark?’ If it wasn’t going to come financially, at least I did get this.”

Despite the challenges, Taylor said it’s still more important for people to do what they love.

“No matter what you choose to do, it’s going to be challenging, even if you choose the stable gig. Do what you’re passionate about because when it does get rough, that’s what keeps you going. You really want it more than anything.”  

Taylor also encouraged young artists not to dismiss the importance of the business side of things.  

“Story is at the heart of it. I think the challenge is in a way you can package it so people can receive it,” Taylor said. “You can have the best story in the world, but if nobody knows about it, it just sits there. Having that business hat is equally important to producing these projects."


Story by RCAH Student Kelsey Block. Photos by RCAH Student Ian Siporin.

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