Vivian Taylor’s Work Featured in “Missing Voices” Exhibit

Photographer Vivian Taylor sits by one of her flower gardens at her home in Eastport, Maine. (Photo by Emma Irish)

By Emma Irish

 

Vivian Taylor’s photography has awakened the walls of the Eastport Art Center. Years in the making, Taylor’s large scale, black and white photos seem to speak directly to both our hearts and minds. The exhibit, titled “Missing Voices,” is comprised of captivating images taken throughout the 1990’s, all of which together make us wonder, “Who is Vivian Taylor?” 

Today, Vivian Taylor is a resident of Eastport, Maine. She is a retired pianist, musician, impresario and photographer who has accompanied some of the finest African American voices. Taylor is also the originator and founder of the 1986 Boston Group, VIDEMUS, Inc., meaning ‘we see.’ This organization, now based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, still offers paramount cultural musical events. 

Taylor’s accomplishments and efforts alongside African American colleagues were not indicated by her initial upbringing. “I grew up in Pennsylvania, in an all-white community; there was no diversity,” Taylor explained. However, it seems that when Vivian began her post-secondary education at the Institute of Music in Cleveland, Ohio, this “no diversity” situation was about to change. Vivian’s first job was teaching at an African American Music School in Cleveland. “It was like a community school,” she said. This may well have been where Taylor began her career path down a road less traveled in the 1960s for a young white woman. Vivian remembers well her time at the school and the relationships that were built there with her students. 

After graduating with her B.A., Vivian went on to receive a master’s degree in music from Yale University. She married and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where she taught in the Music Department of Tufts University. This would be the career move that introduced her into the world of fabulous African American musicians in and around the Boston area and where her career as an accompaniest /impressario would take off. It would prove to be the foundation of lifelong interracial colleagues and true friendships of which Vivian Taylor would carry with her forever. 

Unfortunately, Vivian Taylor developed arthritis, bringing a close to her career as a pianist. Vivian began writing a book in 1990 about Ruth Hamilton and many others that she worked with in and around the musical arena. To keep accurate accounts, she interviewed each of her colleagues and friends and then took their photograph. These are the faces that we see today looking back at us through earnest eyes, that would sit through a snowstorm if asked by Vivian if she could take their picture. These are the pictures of beloved friends, and although they are black and white, they have no color.

Taylor’s sharpness of focus and gradations of tone bring her images alive. Laughingly, when asked what kind of camera she used, Taylor succinctly replied, “It was a good one!” 

Although Taylor’s book is yet unpublished, the pictures she took and the stories they hold are very much awakened today in this little coastal town of Eastport. Taylor’s work was exhibited throughout the month of July and individual pieces can still be viewed. When looking at her work, it appears that Taylor is once again accompanying her dear friend Ruth Hamilton, along with many others, resurrecting their “missing voices” and bringing them back as a symbol and focal message of what true friendship looks like. Her pictures are real, tangible and deliberate.

 

“Be true to your work, your word and your friends,” advised Henry David Thoreau, sharing sentiments that Vivian Taylor embodies. We would all be the better to follow her example.