Front St. Arts
Hunt for Steel
At the Pond
Preface & Reader Response
Taylor's images are less captured stills than slow-motion revelations.
The Fairview of Marsha Taylor
by Jerry Murley
Sense of place suggests – almost demands – comparison with somewhere else. Traveling west from Franklin, Fairview is a near-there dot on the map of Tennessee: either almost home or almost to Interstate 40 or State Route 840. It does not appear likely that people who grew up around that stretch of Highway 100 would move to places so different as Manhattan. That some who leave return from long absence to meld with the Fairview that they left behind seems even less probable. When migrants take their journey abroad and back, they do not only bring the big city home, they leave a part of their hamlet in the metropolis. One place thrives on the gifts brought from home while home has trouble noticing itself. 
Without knowing details of Marsha Taylor's journey, we know enough. She left Williamson County at a time when energetic young women could spurn the pickup-truck set of their origins and walk out the door without hesitation or regret. While even today her peculiar patch of Middle Tennessee is a remote outpost to the casual passerby, it is a ground she re-occupies with generous openness, a playful mind, and an offbeat awareness. All we need know about Taylor is embedded in her photographic product: she is a participant and an observer – there and near there. She moves unobtrusively with a gentle presence. Not prone to false sentiments or casual conventionality, she has a thirst for the confluence of contesting details that few want to notice or know how to see.
On the main highway in Fairview, Taylor now oversees operations at her family's small garden center. She roams the backwoods in her pickup truck. With her camera, she hunts for stray signs of free-range culture with the assurance of the young woman who once knew Hell's Kitchen as she knows Fernvale.
When Taylor looks at Fairview, she sees what most of us don't ordinarily see – what is right before our eyes to see but partly concealed by an enveloping commonplace of plenty. She sees for us the divergent worlds that reside side by side in the same space and time, colliding in her mind's eye with significance. When framed by her camera, an unassuming cohabitation of objects becomes remarkable. And the combination speaks most clearly of both specific place and universality.
Taylor's images are less captured stills than slow-motion revelations. Motes of wit and curiosity easily flow through her lens without strained filters: absent are hard-focused, acidic social commentary and soft-focused nostalgia. An overlay of rowdy, off-centered, and exquisite geometry briefly contains and highlights an instant. Nothing is precious; she does not market a place. Though respect presides in every composition, usually humor tints each in some measure. She recognizes the eccentric way that her subjects – and we all – clumsily, sometimes admirably, assemble lives amid a sea of things and entanglements – an aggregation of flawed deposits that stand as our culture.
Taylor studies and gathers patterns and flaws. She finds flaws in their habitat. The variations she accents speak for themselves. She focuses on flaws that are alight with a genuine impulse of people struggling to find and assert a culture they can call their own. She renders variety and verities that are readily discarded by most, holding them up as examples of life worth keeping – just as beautiful as the mere picture perfect.
In New York City, Taylor specialized for pay in head-shot portraits of aspiring actors. In a typical headshot, viewers are subject to inflated personalities devoid of context. In contrast, her Fairview portraits betray not a speck of pretense. Instead they are infused with the unremarkable resilience of subjects awash in everydayness. Her subjects, animate and inanimate, inhabit a region that is more vegetation than aspiration. They are kept afloat in a hill-country creek of steady flow punctuated by fitful torrent, where charm and cultural debris coexist with capricious nature.
Taylor's portraits dwell with people and places exposed and resigned to things as they are. Though discovered in momentary solace, her subjects are nevertheless firmly fixed by location and kin. Rough hewn by circumstance and hand stitched by ritual, they spill out of their confinement and speak in silence. Steady sameness, studded by quiet, abandon, crisis, spite, and whimsy, rings true of life lived everywhere – and especially of life shared in Marsha Taylor's Fairview.
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1. Taylor interned at the International Center of Photography in New York City.