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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

Photography exhibit shows the radically ordinary life of a 'Little Black Boy'

A young Black boy, LJ, lays on the ground looking directly at the camera with his head resting on his right arm. He is surrounded by a fort made out of blankets, boxes and an American flag.
Rashod Taylor
Joe McCauley Gallery
"LJ and his Fort" is one of the images on display as part of Joe McCauley Gallery's exhibition titled, "Little Black Boy." The show features black and white photography by Twin Cities native Rashod Taylor.

The exhibition “Little Black Boy” enters its final weeks at Heartland Community College’s Joe McCauley Gallery, featuring black and white photography by Bloomington-Normal native Rashod Taylor.

Taylor became interested in photography at a young age, looking at his parent's photo albums and more officially working on Normal Community High School’s newspaper and yearbook teams. He studied fine art photography at Murray State University in Kentucky and eventually wound up back in the Twin Cities. Taylor now lives in Springfield, Mo.

“There’s not a lot of staff jobs out there,” he said. “The coined term ‘the starving artist’ — that was definitely me. I did have a great experience in New York with an internship at Essence Magazine.”

Taylor’s exhibition at HCC is the first solo show to take place in his hometown. Hanging at Joe McCauley Gallery through May 13, “Little Black Boy” is a collection of images of Taylor’s son, LJ. Nearly all of the photos were taken in central Illinois.

“He’s our only son. I settled on him (as a subject) because I was doing it anyway,” Taylor said.

LJ, now 6, was born a few years after public attention escalated around the killing of young Black men at the hands of police — Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and Laquan McDonald, to name a few.

“I wanted to make these more than just my own personal family snapshots and have a bigger vision with the works,” Taylor said. “I wanted to document my son and show the correlation and connection that a little Black boy has with his father, his mother, his family, and to give that a bigger voice. People can see that view through my family, but can (also) see the wider view of the Black American experience.”

That Taylor’s lens is specifically local to central Illinois, often perceived as rural, white, and cornfed, is unique. It’s also all he knows.

“I haven’t had many issues with law enforcement,” said Taylor. “I just know a lot of friends and family that have. And then you look at the broader constructs of the United States, and it’s happening everywhere. I take that as inspiration.”

Yet the moments captured in “Little Black Boy” are decidedly ordinary. On black and white film, using a large format camera, Taylor depicts familiar, intimate moments from most children’s lives: bathing, playing outside, or snuggling in a blanket.

“I like simplicity,” Taylor said. “You photograph what you’re passionate about and what you love. That’s my family. Some of those ordinary images are not seen enough in society and media. You just don’t see that of Black kids and parents — that tenderness, that love. It’s always been there. It’s just not seen.”

“Little Black Boy” runs through May 13 in the Joe McCauley Gallery at Heartland Community College. The gallery is free and open to the public whenever the campus is open.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.