Sweet Briar students will have the chance to spend a whole semester this fall with renowned photojournalist and nature photographer Medford Taylor. Taylor, whose work has been featured in National Geographic and TIME, will be teaching digital photography in the College’s studio art department.
“We are very happy to have him join us,” said department chair Laura Pharis. “His excitement about photography and teaching at this indomitable women’s college is contagious.”
Taylor, who lives in Richmond, is no stranger to Sweet Briar. In 2009, he was awarded a fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an artists’ retreat near Sweet Briar’s main campus, in return for his guest lectures in the College’s studio art department. Shortly after, Sweet Briar hosted an exhibition of his work in Babcock Gallery: “ ‘Silent Journey’: A Photographer and Millions of Butterflies Travel to the Heart of Mexico.” Taylor had worked closely with Sweet Briar College research professor Lincoln Brower, who continues to study the monarch’s annual migration.
But nothing could have fueled his passion for Sweet Briar quite as much as the events of last spring, after the College announced plans to close.
“I watched the video of Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s commencement address at Sweet Briar and I was hooked,” he said. “This was such an inspiration for me in my own life, that I knew I would be a supporter of SBC from that day on.”
The College remained open, and Taylor was asked if he would consider teaching in the studio art department. Taylor, who had always wanted to teach, didn’t hesitate.
“I am excited and feel so fortunate to be on the faculty at this propitious moment in the life of Sweet Briar College,” he said. “I truly believe that Sweet Briar is destined to be stronger and even more relevant than at any time in its one-hundred-and-ten-year history.”
He also notes that photography as a field has a long history of distinguished women practitioners.
“I’m proud to say photography has never had a glass ceiling,” he said. “Women like Julia Cameron, Berenice Abbott and Dorothea Lange have been leaders in the field from the very beginning.”
His course will introduce students to the fundamentals of digital image capture, composition and print production. Students also will learn the basics of post-processing with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, and the class will include technical demonstrations, studio instruction, student image presentations and group critiques. Readings and discussions will focus on master photographers and explore contemporary trends in art and documentary photography. Taylor will focus especially on the use of photography as a “seeing” process.
“Photography isn’t only about art,” he noted. “It’s about music and science and politics and the natural world.”
At the end of the class, students will select a number of physical prints from their portfolio and produce a self-published book of photographs.
In a career that spans more than 30 years, Taylor has covered events, people and places all over the world, ranging from the civil rights movement to Mexico’s monarch butterfly migration to the Australian outback. Born in North Carolina and a graduate of High Point University, Taylor served five years as a naval officer, including in Vietnam, before discovering his passion for photography after attending the University of Missouri Photojournalism Workshop. Following a brief stint in the university’s graduate program, he launched a lifetime career in photography, first as a staff photographer for the Houston Chronicle and later the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.
Taylor soon moved on to freelance, completing numerous assignments for National Geographic Magazine, NG Traveler, TIME, Newsweek, GEO, Air & Space magazine, Turner Broadcasting and many other organizations and publications. His work appears worldwide in periodicals, books and on the web. His book “Saltwater Cowboys: A Photographic Essay of Chincoteague Island” was published in 2002.
Taylor says he feels fortunate to have “lived a life in photography,” but he’s excited about the next stage in his career.
“It has been an incredible learning experience and an unsurpassed adventure,” he said. “It is time now to give back and share this experience with the new generation of students. I hope to instill in my students the importance of photography as an art form and its relevance to the lives they will lead after Sweet Briar.”
To learn more about Taylor, visit medfordtaylor.com.