Gentrification, guns and America by photographer Taylor Dorrell

Gentrification, guns and America by photographer Taylor Dorrell

CultureJanuary 27, 2017

I found Taylor in the vast black hole that is the web when I was searching the hashtag of a film camera I just wasted my savings on. I was immediately attracted to the way he portrayed the political turmoil of America in present day.

While Taylor spends much of his time in and around Ohio, he captures ideas that take on national narratives such as gentrification (like in his Over-the-Rhine series) and gun violence (like the one year anniversary of Sam DuBose’ death after being shot and killed by a University of Cincinnati police officer). His series are usually a work in progress over extended periods of time, an expression of America’s ongoing struggle to serve our citizens while pushing them out of their homes to build $600,000 condos. You can catch him hanging with his art school friends, attending the next political protest or photographing Over-the-Rhine, OH where he continues to work on his series.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself. Age, hometown, favorite food?
I'm currently twenty-two years old, born in Savannah, GA, raised in South Carolina, went to high school in Columbus, OH, currently going to school in Cincinnati, OH and my favorite food has to be a tie between pizza and waffles.

What made you get into photography and in the age of student debt, why'd you decide to goto school for it?
I've been interested in photography since I got my first camera in fifth grade - a 3.2 megapixel point and shoot that I still use today. Growing up, I was ingrained with the idea that I had to go to college after high school. I was consumed with photography and my grades plummeted, but my parents still wanted me to go to college. I think a lot of parents are saying this to their kids, not fully understanding the financial burden. Going into my senior year I had a terrible GPA, but a pretty solid portfolio, so I applied to art schools. The degree isn't as important to me as the four years I've had to develop as a human and an artist, but I could have found a more affordable way to do that. I'm very interested in philosophy and politics and in a tuition-free world I'd stay in school, but I'll probably just stick to reading books and doing research through free resources.

Digital or film?
The Photographer Paul Graham came to Cincinnati and a classmate asked him the exact question. He shook his head and said that his work isn't about digital vs film. In his recent work, he uses a medium format camera with a digital back and that's what brought up the question. It depends on an individual's philosophy on photography, but for me, the camera is just a tool to create images. So the subjective intention behind the photographer is what brings them to choosing between the two; it's a step in the process. My message is best communicated through color film photographs, so I'd say I personally prefer film. To put the two against each other as opposing mediums, trying to debate which is 'better', will only produce subjective opinions on what it means for one to be 'better'.

Many of your photo series seem politically driven (insert examples) would you say this is true and if so, what's the motive for you being the one behind the camera?
I feel like my projects that are explicitly political, like Swing State, are more about my exploration and curiosity in regime politics and the relationship, or lack of relationship, with everyday citizens. In that exploration, my intended objectivity is quickly taken away in every step of the process. Even my interest in a project is distorted by my perception and implicit biases. In shooting, sometimes I'm not welcomed and other times I'm embraced. In sharing a project, certain audiences embrace it and others view the images as negative propaganda. My motive is to create images that I find aesthetically pleasing and conceptually relevant to current events.

We saw quite a bit of guns on your feed, can you explain?
When I was growing up in the south, it seemed like it was expected of everyone to own a gun. It wasn't something I questioned or thought about until moving to Ohio. Now I see it as being somewhat taboo, but it's interesting to listen to why individuals feel the need to own them and I try to include that aspect of American life in my exploration of politics.

Do you try to remove any political biases when you're photographing?
I try to remove personal biases while I'm shooting to a certain degree, in that I focus on visual characteristics when I'm deciding on what to photograph. But that in itself is biased to what I find interesting. For example, I find guns more visually interesting than signs. When I say "visually interesting", I'm implying that I think a gun will visually communicate a message more effectively than a sign. I try to avoid being too direct in what I photograph and I don't try to remove that intention while I'm making images.

You're about an 8 hour drive to D.C but your photos appear to represent the happenings and issues that are being faced in Washington today. How has your location helped you tell these stories?

I don't think the happenings take place in Washington, which is one of the few reasons so many Trump supporters say they support him - that disconnect between government and the governed. Being in a state that is so important in the election is perfect for exploring politics and the differing sides.

Favorite photo series you've worked on so far?
I'd say my favorite so far has been my experience photographing the Creation Museum and the life size Noah's Ark. In the photo essays, I tried to be as objective and openminded as possible, but the experience was scary to me. Both places have scientists with PhDs who make up pseudoscientific theories about the world that are founded on a holy book and then present it as scientific fact. If both amusement parks focused on establishing the Bible as a reliable reference for scientific theories, I would be much less disheartened. It's something that genuinely causes me anxiety and I think that's why I view it as one of my favorites. If the images don't give you anxiety, watch Bill Nye visit the Ark.

Now that the political campaigning is over (for now), where are you looking to focus your work next?
I'll still be photographing my neighborhood in Cincinnati as well as the neighborhood where I went to high school in, New Albany. Over the next four years, there will be plenty of political issues to photograph.