The Model Mayhem interview: T.H. Taylor
T.H. Taylor is a professional photographer and passionate musician. His portfolio covers a wide range of genres, ranging from editorial to alternative, and his work has been featured both internationally and domestically. He is currently based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We took some time to talk with T.H. about how he got his start, tips on how to succeed in the business of photography and his love for punk rock and opera.
Photographer: T.H. Taylor; Model: SaraLiz; Makeup Artist: T.H. Taylor
MM Edu: Tell us about your background.
T.H. Taylor: What can I say? Playas ain’t born… they’re made in small town America! I’m from a little town in northern Illinois called Freeport (pop. 25,000 counting the cows) and always grew up knowing that I was going to do something other than work in the local factory or be a farmer. Anyway, I’ve always looked at the conventional from a non-conventional viewpoint (which is surprising because “alternative culture” in Freeport is essentially going out for Mexican food) and I made the decision early on that I did not and would not give a sh*t about the acquisition of property, money or success in the traditional American sense. You know… 9-to-5 job, wife, white picket fence, 2.5 children, Volvo in the garage, etc. In a nutshell: I planned on being a real loser and I was pretty content with that inevitable prospect. The problem, however, was that I have a tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist, as well as a tad obsessive. These annoying little traits are fed by structure, so every day of my youth was a battle to keep my head from exploding. Thank the gods for music and theatre; they were the only things that kept me sane. I also learned at an early age that singers and actors scored babes.
Music: the perfect combination of complete creative freedom generously doused in my well-needed precision and structure. Theatre provided me the ability to express myself wholeheartedly. I knew then that I was home. I now had a reason to exist. I also unfortunately had a reason to go to college too, dammit! I asked my folks, “Did Pavarotti go to school? Where exactly did Shakespeare study?” I soon found out that at 17, it’s difficult not to succumb to a few societal expectations. So, I went to school at my parent’s request for voice performance and theater with a focus on opera—I’m a baritone so I got all of the crap parts—and I have no regrets.
MM Edu: So how does an opera singer and musician become a photographer?
TH: Easy, I needed a job. Living a non-conventional life can be fulfilling creatively, but it’s not fulfilling when it comes to the belly. The first word in the term “starving artist” is very appropriate. I don’t give a damn how good you are, paying your dues as an actor or a musician sucks: a million auditions, killing yourself for that one part, thrilled when you get it and then finding out you’re only getting $300 a week for the performance of a lifetime. I loved it, but I accepted the fact that I needed a job.
Do you remember how I said musicians and actors scored the babes? Well, enter a certain model who I’ll call “Michelle.” She changed my life on a bet.
Michelle was with a rather prominent agency in Chicago back in the super-model heyday. She was a beautiful, hardworking model who was consistently upgrading her portfolio, so her agency sent her to a shooter in Chi-town (who is still there and shooting) to get new images. When she got the contact sheets back (yes… contact sheets, folks!), she asked for my opinion. I told her frankly that they sucked (and they did). Michelle was shocked and immediately told me that I was speaking from a non-industry perspective. I told her, “Beauty is beauty. You are beautiful and this guy is actually detracting from that. Why for God’s sake would you want these photos in your portfolio?” She replied boldly, “You think you could do better?” Without hesitation, I told her that I could—even though I didn’t know anything about photography, lighting or processing.
Anyway, I decided to give it a go. I grabbed a friend’s P.O.S. K1000, went to the camera shop, had the guy behind the counter load the film for me, and then I proceeded to walk the streets of Chicago with Michelle shooting what I thought looked good. I had a blast (I remember doing my best to keep the little arrow on the right side of the viewfinder in the middle of the = and – symbols).
When we got the contact sheets back (I, of course, had to send them out), we both agreed that they actually were better. She took my contacts to her agent and the agency picked a few images for her book from our shoot. That’s when a little light went off in my head. “If this scrub shooter can charge $400 to working models for crap book work,” I thought to myself, “I can charge $200 for near mediocre work and maybe make some dough.” So, I had a job.
Michelle and I did not stay together, but I’ll always appreciate the inspiration she gave me. About six months after our little session, I sold everything of value, purchased a camera and some basic equipment and moved to Minneapolis.
MM Edu: Why Minneapolis?
TH: Well, it’s the home of the all majestic “purple one,” Prince, of course!
I also chose that location because it’s still in the Midwest (I’m a total “corn-a-phile” and love my Midwest roots), it’s incredibly beautiful and liberal and it has natural-selection cold (it kills off the stupid, weak and the ignorant).
MM Edu: Do you prefer shooting in a studio or on location?
TH: I always say, “Lighting by God is much better than lighting by Todd.” The problem is though, that God is a fickle gaffer, and I’m relatively sure that he hates boobs. Every time I shoot an outdoor nude, he shuts the lights off or turns them up intermittently. Regardless, when he does decide to cooperate, he gives me stunning light. That’s a fact.
MM Edu: What’s a typical day in the studio with T.H. Taylor like?
TH: The models love me! My studio is a mess; I’m a mess. They come in and realize that there are no pretenses in my studio—I don’t give a damn who you are, who you think you are, who you’ve worked with or what you think you’re bringing to the table. In my studio, I’m in charge. Frankly, in my opinion, it’s all about taking control of your set, because if a photo shoot fails, we [photographers] are the ones to blame (even if the model blows, we get blamed for not being able to “capture them” properly). So, as you can only imagine, there’s a lot of T.H. testosterone being tossed around during my shoots. Please understand though, I love models and I’ve made some terrific friends amongst them. However, even they [my friends] know that when I’m behind the camera, we are no longer friends and that they’d better perform well above par or else Toddy gets bratty.
MM Edu:How did you develop the business skills to be successful?
TH: Success is subjective. I look at it this way: If I can avoid having a real job, make a bit of cash, have plenty of beer in my fridge, a fantastic woman by my side and even earn a tiny bit of respect from others for what I do, then that’s success.
Per developing these skills, like anyone else, it’s all about trial and error. Also, please keep in mind that I’m essentially and totally a tawdry prostitute who will shoot just about anything for cash. I have absolutely no compunction about shooting tools, products, food (which I love to shoot), etc.
MM Edu: You love art but hate artists… explain what that means?
TH: Art is an essential part of life. It is a tangible expression of mankind’s ultimate goals and achievements, and it differentiates us from the beasts and allows posterity to comprehend (as a direct conduit) the mindset, state of being and culture of an entire era. We are lesser beings without art.
But f*ck artists! If anyone ever calls me by that name, I correct them immediately and say, “I’m no artist. I just on occasion (and if I’m fortunate) create some things that others may construe as being art. I’m really just trying to make pretty pictures… nothing more.”
My reasoning for this is that for the most part, the “artists” that I’ve met are pretentious, self-righteous, self-edifying a**holes… and that’s just bollocks. I recently ended up at this little “artists’ commune” with a friend of mine and some of these people were brilliant technicians, but they were so f-ing busy trying to be interesting, cool and alt.
Anyway, in my opinion, the minute you call yourself an artist, you’re no longer an artist (or you certainly have not reached a level worthy on that nomenclature—and from a practical standpoint, you never should). Even when I was a “starving artist,” I never considered myself an artist… just starving.
MM Edu: With that in mind, if you could have dinner with any artist in history, whom would you choose and why?
TH: Iggy Pop.
We would just get sh*t-faced, throw our food around, write and perform crap but genius old-school punk, compare naked pictures of each other, and wake up in a pool of vomit next to an aboriginal trans-gendered prostitute in a seedy hotel in Bangkok. Then drink an energy drink and do it all over again.
MM Edu: And whom would you want to face in the octagon?
TH: Jim Henson.
I’m pretty sure I could kick the ever-loving sh*t out of him. He played with puppets, made Frank Oz famous (Yoda and Grover are essentially the same—no wool over these eyes brother), traumatized my childhood with giant creepy talking things and at last count… he is no longer amongst the living. If Jim isn’t available then I’d take on Satan for influencing any Black Swedish Death metal bands.
Photographer: T.H. Taylor; Model: Lara
MM Edu:Tell us about “who’sbeeninmyshower!”
TH: Models always end up with crap (not literally) on them during my shoots. A certain recently retired model that I will miss terrifically was washing off in my shower and I stuck the camera in her face. After that, it became a little thing that models would request to be a part of. It’s easy, fun and clean. Someday, I’ll do a book based on this concept.
MM Edu: Who (or what) influenced you as a photographer?
TH: Old-school punk, the economy, needing a job that wasn’t 9-to-5 (though I work almost 70 to 80 hours a week), opera, my parents, my brother, “American Gigolo,” my girlfriend and any Elle magazine circa 1986.
MM Edu: And who are The Stanes?
TH: They’re a fun little side project that my best friend and I came up with while sitting around talking about how we used to be and how we used to think. We both were in punk bands and really, really got into the genre and were laughing at how serious punk aficionados can be. We decided that we could never be that way again because the day you pay taxes is the day that you’re no longer punk. Anyway, we were thinking that it would be funny to start a faux band that took the piss out of the seriousness of something that should not be serious, and thus the Stanes were born. Our motto is, “We’re the Stanes. You’re not the FACKING Stanes… Isn’t that lovely.” The first song “Sausages for Tea” has a video: a very expensive and highly produced high budget video (it costs me a 24 pack of Hamm’s beer, and it looks like every penny was well spent).
Look for another video coming in late August called “Stomp the Geezer!” Punk is not dead—it’s just on holiday in Milwaukee.
MM Edu: Can we expect more music from them? What about live shows?
TH: We will be putting out a collection in the fall or early winter. I’m finishing a few more songs, so that should take me about 20 minutes (hey, that’s about 20 punk songs!).
MM Edu: 10 facts that anyone interested would want to know about T.H.Taylor:
TH: First, here are my stats:
Jheri curl hairstyle
And, here are 10 silly facts:
- I’m afraid of crustaceans.
- I see colors and shapes when I hear words, names, numbers, letters and music (it is called synesthesia).
- I have never done any drugs. I drink enough to know not to do drugs!
- I sing opera and show tunes while I work.
- I am a prolific songwriter of many different genres.
- I have tipped cows before.
- I’m diabetic (and I have a sweet tooth).
- I’m a fanatical fan of Britcoms.
- I used to be handsome, but now I’m a bit rough around the edges.
- I’m a serious closet nerd (Star Trek, Star Wars, D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) and so on).
Photographer: T.H. Taylor
MM Edu: And finally, let’s talk a little about Model Mayhem. Your profile states very clearly “This is not a dating service,” and it’s obvious from talking to you that you’re a very serious guy, so how do you deal with all the attention your irresistible looks draw?
TH: Wow, it’s not my looks; it’s my fabulous ass. I really don’t have much else going for me—just this ass. I talked to some people in the science community and they are actually trying to get funding to study my ass. I’m thinking I won’t get paid for this, but just getting ass approval from world renowned scientists is worth all of the money in the world.
Thanks a ton for taking the time to actually interview me. This is such an honor. If anyone actually reads this to the very end, I just wanted to say, “Thanks but get a life, dammit! Go make some pictures! Now!”
Hugs to all of my model friends who have helped me by being fab and by being my friends. I love you all! Thanks to Neda for being my rock and support, and thanks to Kelly for being crazy and kicking me in the ass to try new things.