Meet Denton Taylor

Monday, April 09, 2018

During my last trip to NYC, I had the opportunity to do a photoshoot with the talented (and well known!) fashion photographer Denton Taylor.  We spent a few hours together not only photographing, but talking. We talked about life, childhood, politics, people and struggles. I felt like we were old friends.  I want to share this incredible human with you--his life is so interesting and although he's too modest to admit it, he's a rock star.

Meet Denton...
Susan:  How long have you been a photographer and how did you get into it?

Denton:  I became interested in photography when I was around ten, as a means of self-expression.  After an exceptionally long Saturday of delivering groceries for tips, I was able to snag my prize--a plastic $3 Diana camera (ironically the Diana went on to become a valuable cult item in the 1990's).  My parents promptly confiscated it. But there came other cameras that were better hidden and I slowly learned the craft. However photographing people and style came much later in life.

S:  Where is your favorite place to shoot in NYC?
D:  Assuming we are talking style, New York is full of great neighborhoods and places to shoot.  However I have to balance my day job with my time on the street, so the places I shoot may not be best for everyone.  To see what artistic and super stylish young people are wearing now, using vintage and less expensive garments, you can't beat Bushwich (Brooklyn). Young artistic stylish people with a little more money can be found in Willamsburg (Brooklyn), the East Village, and NoLita.  SoHo is an international fashion playground for both young and old.  I tend to work the classic high fashion streets of Fifth and Madison Avenues. The corner of 57th Street and 5th Avenue was beloved by Bill Cunningham, Gary Winogrand and Robert Frank, among others.  Perhaps my favorite street, given my geographic constraints, is the north side of 57th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues.  Bracketed on one end by Louis Vuitton and the other end by Fendi, with Dior, Chanel and others mid-block, the street has low pedestrian traffic but is quite wide, all of which makes it easier to stop people for photos.

S:  Did you always shoot fashion? What draws you to it?
D:  I did not.  I was a typical straight guy with little to no interest in anything fashion-related.  I didn't become interested in fashion until I was in my fifties.  I think part of my new interest was simply being a New Yorker. It's impossible to ignore fashion forever, what with the store windows, museum exhibitions, and fashion on display everywhere.  Also, in my day job, I deal with a lot of mechanical equipment and appreciate well made machinery. I began to notice the quality of construction of the high-end garments, shoes and handbags.

S:  Who is your favorite blogger to photograph (besides me, hahaha)?
D:  I have to start out by mentioning Sylvia van de Logt of the blog 40plusstyle.  She was an early supporter of my street style photography, and I continue to furnish her with photos of 40+ women from New York Fashion Week and other events.  She works in Singapore, but visits NYC every two to three years.  So I don't actually "photograph" her on  a regular basis, but I am grateful to her.

There are three women (can't pick just one!) that I work with regularly who I would call "favorites".  None of them have a blog--they all prefer to use Instagram as their sole platform because they have busy lives that involve art, theater, and travel.  In alphabetical order, they are

Dayle has a fantastic look that is always about art with plenty of accessories, jewelry and tons of color.  She works as a docent in a NYC museum  when she is not at the theater or traveling the world.

Diana is also an artist who designs and makes her own jewelry. Her look is a little more glam--- vintage couture pieces mixed with African and ethnic art, leather and suede.

Leslie is also an artist (see an pattern here?) who works in textiles.

It's great being able to work on long-term collaborations with these fantastic women, which more often than not, turn into long-term friendships. My wife and I are close friends with these lovely and stylish folks, and we often hang out and go places together (including shopping of course).

S:  Which photo are you most proud of?
D:  Unfortunately, I don't have any photos that saved lives or helped the world, but one of my favorites (that I printed 20"x30") hangs in our living room. It's of my wife Teresa when we were in our early twenties. She was hanging laundry (remember when people did that?), but I love the peek of her abdomen and the curve of her body. It was taken on medium format film so it's very sharp, clear and prints beautifully.

S: You work two jobs. How does one balance out the other? 
D:  I wouldn't say that I have two jobs, I have one job that I support myself with and then I have an artistic pastime that I pursue when I'm not working! Essentially, I am with a firm that does engineering, diagnostic and repair work on mechanical systems of the major Manhattan office buildings and institutions.  It's all men, all the time.  But I have some free time on the job because I go from place to place in the city and can always take photos while moving around.  Also, some of my job is from home so I can shoot in the late afternoon and do the homework in the evening.  I love what I do, but it's not exactly creative.  So the fashion part of my life gives me the creative outlet.

S: I had so much fun shooting with you...the photos are fabulous. Which one is your favorite?
D: As you can see, I have a problem picking just of of anything! One of the things that interests me when I work with a woman, is seeing what images she likes versus those I like. With some subjects, mode and photographer pretty much agree. With others, they don't agree at all.
We did several shots of you walking on this cobblestone street, and this is my favorite from that series. In it, your head is held high and you are expressing confidence--even though you are walking on cobblestones and may be hit by a mini-van (lol). Your stride is perfect, your fingers are relaxed and leading in the direction you are moving.  Your smile is beautiful and your entire outfit is subtly in motion. A perfect urban fashion shot.

Shop my look HERE.

Not everyone cal pull off the shot of you sitting as well as you do. But this pose is one of my favorites to solve that important problem "I NEED TO SEE THE SHOES!"  Not only do we see the shoes, you are relaxed confident and happy.  I love that while the background is more monochromatic, the bench throws a needed splash of red into the photo.  I also love the way the horizontal bars cross just perfectly, one right at the top of the knee and one at the ankle.

Find my comfy jacket and pants HERE and HERE.
S:  This happens to be one of my favorite photos because the background is so amazing! (Shop my look HERE)

S:  Are there any photographers who have had an influence on you?
D:   Yes! Although I think I better confine this to style and portrait photographers.  When it comes to fashion, no one does for me what Irving Penn does.  After him, I'd choose Richard Avedon.  Did I mention in another context that I like long-term collaborations?  That means I love Edward Weston's nudes of Charis Wilson, Robert Mapplethorpe's work with Patti Smith and Lisa Lyon. Others in clude Harry Callahan's loving work with his wife Eleanor, Nicholas Nixon's project on the Brown Sisters, Larry Clarks work with teenagers and  Lauren Greenfield's work on LA girl cultures.

S:  What does fashion mean to you?
D:  Fashion is about expressing oneself creatively. It's also about beauty, art and design. It's about fantasy and magic.  It's about construction and materials too. I'm interested in seeing how women respond to constraints placed on them by males and society and how they work within/around them or subtly subvert them.  The "modest fashion" movement intrigues me.

S:  Last question, what types of backgrounds are you drawn to? 
D:  Great question because a lot of the fun of this for me is chasing down appropriate backgrounds to shoot against.  However I don' have a background type that I'm drawn to.  I look around with an open mind. Any time I'm working with a subject in a new neighborhood,  always spend a few minutes scouting the area before the shoot, looking for interesting backdrops . The only things I avoid are symbols of urban disorder, graffiti, barbed wire, etc....especially when shooting with women of color.  I also try to get a sense of the outfits I'll be photographing beforehand.  For example, I don't really want to shoot a black outfit against a black background.

S:  Denton thank you SO much for this interview. I can't wait to take another trip to NYC so we can work together again!
D:  Susan, thank you for the opportunity!

Visit Denton's website to view more of his incredible work and follow him on IG.

My hair by Robert Jason Salon

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