Max Taylor was following a traditional path in NYC’s financial sector when everything changed. Hurricane Sandy shut down the city, causing him to look at the world around him with fresh eyes. In the desolation, he also saw New York’s beauty, and quickly decided he wanted to capture what he saw on film. It was a cataclysmic moment — when a life of art won out over a life of comfort. It wasn’t long before decided to take his talents on the road, traveling the world, taking amazing photos.
Taylor has only been a professional photographer for a few years, but you’d never know it. His work feels polished and professional, but still fresh, vital, and unique. Each picture reverberates with youthful energy, a love for the world, that makes us want to plunge the bustling chaos of this confused, wild life.
This week, Max was kind enough to share his photos with us while discussing his love of photography, travel, and the art of creating captivating stories out of a single image.
Can you talk about what got you started in photography?
I got my start in photography because of Hurricane Sandy — everything in downtown New York City, where I was living at the time, was shut down for 25 days. It was a surreal experience in a virtually abandoned skyscraper with no water or electricity. It was primal and incredible — but with only a camera on my cell phone, I couldn’t fulfill my desire to document it, and decided to buy a digital camera shortly after.
From the first pull of the trigger I was hooked. I discovered a new way to look and interact with the world — an activity that kept me fully engaged and endlessly curious. I started shooting, experimenting, and teaching myself every day. Six months into my endeavor, my efforts were rewarded with a $15,000 photography grand prize from The Weather Channel for my underwater shot of a 25ft whale shark.
How did you decide to make it your profession?
I was working in finance and on the verge of quitting and never going back – I was burnt out on the hours, the pressure, and the lack of any sort of compassionate feelings from the community around me. This was around the time I discovered photography as a personal expression and I started selling prints on a fold up table on the Brooklyn Bridge. Wall St to street peddler was quite a 180, but once I discovered I could pay my bills outside in the sunshine, there was no going back.
In the time since, I have launched a business selling my work as prints through http://www.LooseCanonNYC.com, started http://www.TinderPhotographer.com (yes, really), and landed some fantastic clients in fashion. Some of my adventures included completing an artist residency at a boutique hotel in Nicaragua, spending a month exploring Cuba, and shooting everything from underwear models to whale sharks. I have never been happier.
You’ve been a photographer for a couple of years now, do you have advice for people starting out?
Experiment old school with film. I started developing in my kitchen sink and using a cheap flatbed scanner I got off craigslist, and have learned so much from playing around with it. Each photo counts because you can’t just delete a bad shot. The fact it’s not free has made me so much more particular and careful about the way I compose a photo and has improved my skill exponentially. It’s amazing how much mileage you can get from a $30 eBay camera.
What excites you about photography?
I love creating a personalized view of reality. For me, it’s not about perfect exposure and proper contrast. Let’s see some wild colors and strong shadows. Negative space is my favorite. I think a great photo is as much about what you don’t see as what you do.
There is also a huge opportunity for adventure and escape from everyday life. Photography has the power to take you out of reality and put you into a story that is conveyed by one image. One of my favorite experiences was the whale shark photo that I mentioned earlier. I went scuba diving with my dad off the coast of Thailand and a beautifully patterned 25-foot whale shark swam past me, gliding into a dense school of jack fish. The water moved me with one swish of its tail. I have a large print of that photo hanging in my apartment and every time I look at it I can feel that tremendous power.
What inspires you?
My inspiration is my Mom. I grew up assisting her videography business and although I didn’t know it at the time, I know now that she has taught me everything about composition. She’s a fashionista with an amazing sense of vintage style; together we are working to launch her own line of jewelry which you can check out at http://www.CuffedbyBirdie.com
You’re primarily interested in fashion photography, why fashion?
The opportunity to bring together a band of passionate people to explore an idea. A good shoot has an amazing sense of chemistry and the rush of creating a great image has a viral energy that is contagious. One of my friends found It, another carved It, Lexi the model wore it, and I shot It. Cowskull Girl is one of my all time favorite shots; born from a bit of rum and a whirlwind of creative people having fun.
Photography isn’t just about composition — apart from shooting, the logistical challenges of producing a shoot from coordinating talent and stylists, as well as picking locations is really engaging and rewarding. One of my favorite locations was in an ice cave in Washington. Ice water dripped down upon us as we scrambled over slick rock through the dark, ominous cave entrance – combined with some gear malfunctions from the cold , shooting that cave was one of the most challenging locations I’ve been in, but also yielded some exciting shots.
What are some of your favorite recent projects that you’ve worked on?
I’ve been experimenting with different mediums combined with my photography mostly involving projected images. At the Bushwick Community Darkroom I’ve been using liquid emulsions, which is essentially the liquid form of what coats traditional darkroom paper. Using the projector, I’ve been making analog prints of my digital work on everything from stretched canvas to butcher knives. It’s a technique that can turn digital back into analog which is a fascinating reversal of traditional concepts I really enjoy.
I also like to use paint to enhance some of my images. Below is a painted print of a self-portrait I made using the overlapping shadows of flashing ambulance lights.
Can you talk about places you’ve traveled to, and some of your favorite photos you’ve taken while traveling?
Cuba was an amazing place. I snuck in over two years ago, before the travel restriction was lifted and had an amazing month of internet detox wandering among the colorful scenery. I speak about 30 words of Spanish and was amazed at how much could still be communicated. Some of my favorite photos came from the days I spent with Raiden and his family farming tobacco. We swapped stories through broken language, drank rum, played baseball and enjoyed the fresh air surrounded by vibrant fields of green crops and red dirt.
After asking permission from his wife to enter their lands (and dodging a very angry Mamma Pig), I approached Raiden and his sons, repeating in broken Spanish my request for a nice spot to watch the “salida del sol” over the mountains. Raiden was excited to see a foreigner on his farmland and invited me to work the remaining afternoon (and next few days) helping to pick the bottom leaves off his tobacco crop.
Through charades and two broken languages, I learned Raiden grows everything he needs on his farm, buying only salt and soap from the government. He once hosted another foreign photographer on his land about 20 years ago, who would come back and visit every few years.