Earle Taylor's evocative photography helps set the mood for Barksdale's tribute to two legendary singers. 

Shooting from the Shadows

Jazz. Four letters, one word, myriad meanings. What else blows hot or cool and either way sounds great? Jazz is the sound that swings, and if it doesn't move you then you either have no soul or you might want to check your pulse and see if you're still breathing.

If you know it's rare to see jazz done right then you need to check out the celebration going on at the Barksdale: "Ella and Her Fella Frank." The two title roles feature the dead-on vocals of Rene Croan and Scott Wichmann. Among the theatrical souvenirs and memories that decorate the walls are a few subtle items to help set the mood for this magical journey; Earle Taylor's incredible photographs.

The 13 photographs that make up this exhibit titled "Off Stage" feature local and national performers caught in the act of not performing. Pentimento style, the musicians and dancers have had their stage personas stripped away to reveal the person inside. Prominent nationally known performers include trumpeter Miles Davis, drummer Max Roach and bassist Ron Carter.

Two shots of the preternaturally cool Davis feature him in contemplative moods. In one, his eyes are closed, his face framed by hair that fades away. Davis appears lost in thought, listening to sounds only he can hear. "I took that shot here in Richmond at the Mosque," Taylor says. "There were several of us sitting around a table just talking. Miles was really perspiring. I had to be ready."

Taylor, a professional photographer who has been honing his skills since he was 14 years old, has been around performers for a long time. "I was in and out of New York all the time and I used to hang out in Birdland," he says. "That's where I met Max and (Thelonius) Monk and had a chance to dialogue with them and all the early '50s groups."

The shot of Davis shows every line carved into his distanced face. "I was shooting outdoor film indoors and played with it to make it so grainy. When you see it, it looks like an etching. I want my work to look more like an art piece than a photograph."

Taylor's other works include beautiful shots of dancers posed against dark backdrops and backstage accessories. One, "Soft Solitude," is an extreme close up of a woman tiredly looking at the audience while her dark hair and black leotard blend into the darkness. The blurring of the edges creates a twilight effect and the piece is powerful and evocative.

"When the young lady began posing we did traditional poses," Taylor explains. "Then I began trying different things with the light. I wanted to highlight those eyes. She's got beautiful eyes. I wanted her to come out of the shadow and go back in again. Much more interesting than a straight portrait."

Taylor doesn't confine himself to the trappings of the stage. "That's a different part of me," he says. "Art is just one side." Indeed Taylor, who claims his resume "reads like a novel" has been involved with the Boy Scouts for more than 50 years. Currently he works as a leader and a person who trains Scout Masters. How great would it be to have him in your corner when you go for a photography merit badge?

In addition to the scouts, Taylor teaches at Pine Camp and has a program that he runs in various schools aimed at grades three through five.

"We're really happy to have Earle's work here," says Barksdale Artistic Director Randy Strawderman. "They are truly remarkable in their passion." He pauses and points to a favorite print titled "Her Red Dress" in which a beautiful woman in a scarlet dress reclines against a ladder. "That one really gets to me. I find myself stealing glances at it whenever I'm anywhere near it."

Strawderman and Taylor have been friends for years. "We met when we served on the Federated Arts Council years ago," says Strawderman. "I've been a big fan of his work ever since. I've wanted to have Earle's work here for a while, and I wanted to have the perfect show for his talents."

Taylor has been around for some time. "Earle is one of those guys who serves on every advisory committee for the arts," says Strawderman. "He's always there to be counted on." His work has graced Virginia universities and national galleries. Internationally, he has exhibited in the Caribbean and Brazil. His introspective works are also among the highlights of one of the more popular local theatrical presentations going today.

Not too bad for a Boy


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