INTERVIEW // Taylor Roades
This week we’re joined by photographer, Taylor Roades who is also presenting “Bouquets to Backpacks” at The Experience // ARC next month in Vancouver.
Born in Southern Ontario, Taylor now lives on the West Coast of BC, after realising during university that photography was her calling. A lover of travel and adventure, it’s her love for nature that keeps her grounded. Always working hard and hustling, Taylor takes time to write daily, slow down and achieve her own form of work life balance.
Interview by Sachin Khona // September 2016
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK & PRACTICES
Hey Taylor! Thanks for being a part of this interview series! can you tell us when you knew you wanted to be a photographer?
I was sitting in my university dorm room. I had just gotten back from a trip to Uganda that changed and challenged my view of the world quite drastically, and I was struggling to make friends that I connected with in a frat house atmosphere. I was questioning the ideas that were being pushed in my business program – profit as the sole measure of success at the root of it, and I knew that I couldn’t spend the next four years in this environment. I was surfing the internet when I came across a photo of Brian Skerry taking a photo of a whale. The whale was absolutely massive compared to the photographer who is also in the shot, and I thought to myself “This is it. I’m going to be an underwater photographer.”
I called my Mom excited about my new life revelation and she told me to call back when I change my mind again in a week.
There are stories across history about children going against their parents’ wishes. I didn’t want to be an archetype, but that phone call was the start of a two-year long very painful journey and a lot of harsh words and hurt feelings convincing first myself this was the right route to take and then my family.
Where is home for you and where do you work?
Home right now is Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I’ve spent my early twenties constantly planning an escape and even now I know this isn’t a forever home. Vancouver Island, where I was living previous to my move to the city, will just always feel most like home. It is a place I will always go back to.
I occasionally work from home but my office extends to all the coffee shops in this city in a three kilometre radius. I have a problem with staying in one place for too long.
Have you always lived there or was there a conscious choice to move there?
I am a very recent Vancouverite. I grew up in the suburbs of Southern Ontario where my family still lives. Being so far away is the hardest part about living on the other side of the country, but the landscape here is unparalleled and the photo community I’ve been lucky to find myself in is something I am so happy to be a part of.
I decided to move to the West Coast in 2012 after returning from a trip to South East Asia. I flew from Shanghai to Vancouver and found myself downtown at 6 A.M. when the sun was rising and there was absolutely no traffic.
Coming from Shanghai (and being from Toronto) I thought to myself, “What the hell kind of city is this?” and then I saw mountains for the first time in my life.
I was 22 and like so many others from the rest of Canada and abroad, I was charmed by the coast. I ended up moving here at the end of 2013.
In what way does your location influence your work?
Living between Vancouver Island and Vancouver has allowed me to get out into the wilderness more than ever before. This area has a generally mild climate compared to the rest of Canada, and the sheer accessibility of the backcountry is something that has a huge influence of my work and my life.
The time I spend in nature is always refreshing and more than just a great backdrop for weddings and commercial work. It keeps you grounded and reminds you the world is so much more immense than your little bubble.
The community around the West Coast photography scene has had a huge influence in the success I’ve seen as an artist. I’m surrounded by a lot of people who are better than me, who are working harder and are extremely inspiring to be around.
Do you have a designated workspace or office?
I do have a desk at home with a printer, and some storage for my gear when I am not shooting, but I don’t typically work at home. I have a pictures of my more absurd workspaces I’ve had over the years; my head under my jacket working outside at the Vancouver Ferry Terminal (giant boats in the background, fog horns every ten minutes), and looking over the beach on a balcony in St. Lucia. It’s a pretty incredible thing to be able to work from anywhere.
What has been the most defining moment in your career?
I think the conscious choice to get started could be it. I spoke in your first question to when I knew I wanted to be a photographer, but wanting something or dreaming about it and doing it are two very different things.
There has been times of questioning if this is the right path, and then affirmations along the way but I think the biggest defining moment for me was to go in 100%.
I had decided to take a year off from University almost an entire year after I came across Brian Skerry’s work. In that year I started to shoot weddings, and travelled to South East Asia because I also wanted to shoot adventure travel work. I was as lost as any twenty two year old and I had re-applied to go back to school for women’s studies, anthropology, graphic design as well as business. I came back from Asia after six months and my parents told me their house was only available to stay in if I was going back to school, and I couldn’t commit to that.
I’d seen traveling that there was no one way people lived, a degree wasn’t a guaranteed job, or necessarily the path to happiness.
I moved two hours away into a friend’s house, and it was then away from the judgement, and pressures of everyone around me I decided I would take just one more year off I would go all in 100% and see if I couldn’t get it to work. If it didn’t I would go back to school.
That decision, the dream of being a photographer, proving to my family I could do it, and the fear of having to go back to school instilled in me a hustle that I think has defined my career.
What inspires and motivates you to create?
The need to remember.
I wrote on my 2015 year end post that photography for me is a protest against forgetting.
Anais Nin said— ‘We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.’ I think this sentiment can be applied to my own personal philosophy on photography as well.
What are (if any) other creative endeavours you indulge in outside of your work?
I play guitar, design, and write consistently. I’ve been quite enamoured with the idea of captions since I read Susan Sontag’s book On Photography.
(You can read the essay within it that touches on captions here.)
I truly believe words have more power than a photograph, and the combination of the two—evidence and explanation—is why media (instagram, newspapers, magazines) are designed the way they are.
Writing and photography go hand in hand. Photography exclaims, “Hey look at this!” and (to paraphrase Sontag), it turns moments into spectacles. Writing eloquently justifies why.
I work beyond photography to write everyday.
When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
If it is at all possible, I will take a walk in the woods.
How do you know when a piece of your work is finished and needs no additional work?
When you’ve beaten it to death and if you don’t stop revising it you will go crazy.
Are there any key lessons in your career that you’d like to share? OR Best piece of career advice you were ever given?
Do you have a photograph burned in your memory that you never took but wish you had?
I have an image of my Grandmother from Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago. My family sat at her long dining room table with the blue table cloth, using the good china because what is the point of good china if you don’t use it (my grandmother’s sentiment). I was in the middle of the table. I was quiet and listening to her with her party hat on and a little bit of food stuck to her shirt from the meal she’d prepared, waving her arms frantically, loudly sharing what a sorry excuse for a Mayor Rob Ford was. It was a photo I wanted to take then but didn’t. I couldn’t interrupt her speech, I didn’t want to. I’ll never forget that mental shot of her commanding the table so seriously with her party hat all crooked.
This isn’t my only one, life is made up of these snippets for me and I don’t live with a camera attached to me at every waking moment.
I have images of my first kiss being interrupted by a cat. An image of my hands on the wheel after I totalled my car on the first day of a road trip where I was about to move across the country. I have an image of myself holding a woman dying of AIDs onto the back of a motorbike driving her to the hospital; a pseudo ambulance. I have an image of a group of wild twenty somethings drinking whiskey swimming in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam under the stars.
Most of the images I have burned into my memory are moments I had to be present.
Can you share one creative tip that you use when you are working?
Slow down. Sometimes I write it on my hand before a shoot because with photography—and with any creative work for that matter—when you are in the zone it is hard to pull yourself out. If something isn’t working I often jump to the next thing instead of slowing down and thinking about it.
I don’t think my photographs are rushed per se, but people do comment on them and say most of my work has some element of motion to it. I think that is really because I have a hard time slowing down.
What are the 3 most important things in your personal life?
Family, Friends, Nature, Books, Skype?
Do you work in any other fields of business?
I occasionally do a little web design work. I’ve always been a self-learner, and I tend to become obsessive when something (photography for example) sparks my interest. When I was 11-13 coding and web design was it for me. I sat in my parent’s basement on an antique computer and taught myself the basics. I was part of a really nerdy forum for other teenage girls who were coding.
I also write. I’ve done a little bit of freelance work, and I’d like to do much more.
Can you share a bit about your daily schedule?
I’m sure my work habits would benefit from a more stringent routine but things are pretty flexible over here. I wake up, make coffee, brush my teeth. Then depending on the day and my mood, I’ll get to work, go to a meeting, work out, or go for a hike.
I really don’t like routine.
What within your work do you not like to do and why?
Taxes. Small business is part of working as artist and you really can’t avoid it. I like marketing, and I don’t even mind organizing logistics because there is a sense of anticipation, but taxes I just cannot enjoy.
How do you achieve work/life balance?
Maybe it is easier for some to clearly define “work” activities from “life” activities. The two are so entwined with my life, though, that there is no clear defining line. I never wanted balance anyways.
Balance, I feel, implies there are two competing forces for your time.
I never wanted work to feel like a chore, and I never wanted to sacrifice my life for something that did not add a sense of value to my world or the world of others.
I guess my answer is I don’t think about the two as mutually exclusive.
What will you be doing (or hope to be doing) 5/10 years from now?
It is so hard to think so far down the line and it is so hard to make plans for your future self. I’d like to be doing teaching in some regard, I also have dreams of my owning little print shop for photographers, but more selfishly for myself. I just want total control of that process. I’d like to be fluent in Spanish.
Most of all I’d like to be in the process of writing, or have published, a book.
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
To take National Geographic’s motto for my own, I would like to “inspire people to care about the planet.” It is all encompassing and I like that. Travel is what sparked my interest in photography, but a love for life’s small joys is what brought me to weddings. I like nature, music, space, and obscure facts about food and language. I want all of that and more to come through in my work.
I just hope my work helps people to realize what a rich beautiful world we live in.
If you were no longer able to use a camera, how else would you express your creativity?
I would be writing. I’d be playing music more than I do now. I’d probably make furniture too, or at least attempt it.
Are there any mantras that you live by?
Work hard, play hard. (I have to thank my grade eight teacher Mr. Cortese for that one)
If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend your day?
I would collect my family / my best friends and a picnic (that includes nachos and salsa) and head up to Panorama Ridge (a day hike outside of Vancouver and quite possibly the most beautiful place on the planet). I’d take my camera, a wireless speaker and make a “Taylor Croaks Let’s Party Playlist.” I’d pay for a helicopter to fly my grandparents up because they are too old to hike. I’d tell my brother and sister they could sell all my camera gear except one body and one lens each. They could take the money they made off the rest of the gear on a trip anywhere they want together.
Travel has enriched my life in so many ways, and I’d want to, even on my last day, facilitate a little adventure.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
I think I doubt my talent a healthy amount. Doubt keeps your ego in check, it keeps you humble and it constantly leaves you unsatisfied and pushing for better. My closest, creative friends really help me push through that doubt. I also look to my community for feedback and criticism when I am unsure.
A question that I haven’t asked but should have or something you’d like to share with others?
Do you/have you ever had a mentor? How have they influenced or shape your career and/or your life?
We are all just a product of the people we surround ourselves with and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for a few really amazing people.
My Mom has been a lifelong entrepreneur, and she is a boss. Whenever I have a question about business or how to deal with a situation, she is the first person I call and she always knows something about everything. My Dad, who is a graphic designer and musician, is the best example of discipline and hard work when it comes to his drumming. He has always encouraged me to be weird and to own it.
My grade eight teacher Mr. Cortese opened my eyes up to the whole world when our class read a book called The Square about the uprising in China in 1989. It was one of the first places I visited on my world travels. I’ve had a few specific business mentors at University; Alan Quarry, and Steve Farlow who I don’t speak to much anymore, but both of them encouraged me to sit in on a fourth year entrepreneurship class when I was a first year when the bureaucracy of the school wouldn’t officially let me take it. They awarded me enough scholarship money to buy my first professional camera and I can’t thank them enough. Finally Shelley Lundquist who was paired with me through the small business centre in the town I grew up in by chance. She pushed me and made me feel like what I was doing was unique and different.
Today I don’t have a direct mentor figure, but I’ve spoken about the photo community in Vancouver above and we are constantly pushing each other now.
JOIN taylor AT THE EXPERIENCE // ARC
This is NOT your typical photography conference.
Welcome to The Experience // ARC, a one-of-a-kind event for passionate photographers and creatives.
We’ll have 10 expert speakers from all over the world joining us over 3 days.
alongside our host James Moes
Live Interviews // Live Judging of your images
6 BIG IDEAS, mini presentations
Food Trucks // Concert // After Party // Live Bands and DJ’s
find your voice . challenge your perspective . refine your vision
You’ll experience expert training, creative challenges, bold new techniques, powerful connections, amazing adventures and have a hell of a good time, all in one of the most breathtaking cities in the world as our backdrop, Vancouver, BC.
Learn more by visiting our new site for The Experience.
Limited tickets remain!
Grab yours HERE!
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS WITH TAYLOR ROADES
Fav Music // Share a (Spotify) playlist
I tend to make playlists around a time in my life – This is my Welcome to Vancouver Playlist Winter 2016
Film / Documentary that is a must watch?
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading.
A website you regularly follow?
Last place you travelled?
Chile and Argentina
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
Do you have a favourite poem or quote?
Favourite Poem is “Song of the Open Road” By Walt Whitman
Followed closely by “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.” – Tom Robbins
“Peculiar Travel Suggestions are Dancing Lessons From God” – Kurt Vonnegut
‘We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.’ William Faulkner
Can I change this to Favourite Photography Movie? If I can it would be The Bang Bang Club
Favourite TED talk:
1) To see as a photographer sees: Mikhael Subotzky at TEDxStellenbosch
Last gallery / exhibit you visited
C/O Berlin | Eyes Wide Open – 100 years of Leica photography
Your favourite photography book
A creative you’d love to see interviewed on ARC?
Links to your personal work // projects
Map Collection – www.terraincognita.ca
Ana-logged -Personal Film Work – http://www.taylorroadesphotography.com/ana-logged/
Can you share a short assignment / project that has benefited you in the past OR create / describe an assignment that you feel can help those reading this interview?
I read a book a while ago called Photographs Not Taken. It was a collection of stories from other photographers of photographs they have burned in their memory but for whatever reason they don’t have the photo. I started writing out photographs describing them in my journal snippets of my life when I didn’t have my camera there, and that really helped articulate what was important to me about what I was shooting. I think it a great exercise and really enjoyed reading others – I go into a little more detail here – http://taylorroades.com/photography/photographs-not-taken-book-review/
THANK YOU TAYLOR!
You can see more of Taylor Roades’ work here // Web
UP NEXT …
Stay tuned for an interview next week with Toronto based Photographer Hugh Whitaker.
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