Intimate Conversations with Kea Taylor

Kea Taylor is the founder of Imagine Photography, a professional photography studio in Washington, DC specializing in special event, portrait and architectural photography. Her work has been featured in the British News and Observer, Black Enterprise, Ebony/Jet, The Source Magazine and various newspapers, book covers and publications.

BPM: How do you feel about the status marriages today?I think that the institution of marriage in the U.S. is truly being threatened. Not just in the Black community, but in every community. I think we are turning into a more misogynistic and narcissistic society than we’ve ever been—and that doesn’t suit marriages well.

But I believe in the power of love! I am committed to promoting love and encouraging love in spite of what anyone else is doing. And I’m encouraged in my line of work because I’m reminded constantly that I’m not alone. There are lots of people that feel the way I do.

BPM: What makes you powerful as a person, mate and a writer? Who are your mentors?
What makes me powerful as a person is that I have God in me and I believe that I can do anything God puts on my heart to do if I put my mind to it. I’ve always been that way.

As a mate, I think my power comes from my faith and my open-ness to change and genuine desire to want to be a better person and pleasing to God and my husband.  As I writer, I think I’m most powerful when I’m being honest. I think that’s when I have the most power to inspire and truly touch other people.

My mentors, as photographers, are my photographer friends—local photographers in the Washington area. As a self-published writer, Trice Hickman (who is one of my clients) has helped and inspired me tremendously.

I’m sad to say that I don’t really have many mentors, in the traditional sense of having an ongoing relationship with someone for the sole purpose of helping me develop my skills. There are many photographers that I have admired from afar for different reasons…James VanDerZee, Addison Scurlock, Gordon Parks, Kwaku Alston, Sharon Farmer, Carrie Mae Weems, Annie Leibowitz, Henri Cartier Bresson. I’ve also learned from other photographers and people that I’ve worked for. My former boss from my “past life” working in the world of finance, Michael Hodge was a great mentor for me in terms of teaching me how to carry myself professionally. There are countless older women that I admire and attempt to emulate with respect to their class, femininity, strength and humility. But I would have to say that my only long-term mentors have been the women in my family. My mother, Cynthia Prather…my grandmothers, aunts and cousins who always possessed those traits I mentioned above.

BPM: Finish this sentence- My writing offers the following legacy to future readers...
My writing offers the following legacy to future readers...proof of a legacy of commitment to family, community, mutual respect and love.

BPM: Introduce us to your book, I Still Do, and the message created with photos.
It’s truly a pleasure to introduce my book, “I Still Do – A Celebration of African-American Weddings”. This book gives the reader a rare opportunity to see Black love in the new millennium through my eyes as a professional wedding photographer. It’s a keepsake, coffee-table book of the most inspiring moments, images and couples from my nearly ten years capturing African-American weddings that truly speaks to that place in all of us that needs to be reminded that Black love still exists.

The photos in the book are so powerful that I couldn’t begin to put into words the message they convey. The images truly transcend, inspire and demonstrate the beauty of Black love and that despite seemingly insurmountable odds, we are still falling in love and getting married.

BPM: What specific situation or revelation prompted you to write your book?
Well really, I would have to say it was a series of prompts. I believe when God wants you to do something, you start getting these hints…they start out small and just get bigger and harder to ignore. So there were a series of prompts, but perhaps the largest was during now-President Obama’s campaign when images of he and First Lady Obama started popping up all over the media and they looked so genuinely in love. People were forwarding these images to me almost daily, sharing how nice it was to see a Black couple in love. I was amazed that their images seemed to have such a transformative power. It was painfully clear to me after the ninth or tenth email that we, as Black people, have been bombarded with depressing images and messages about the state of our relationships for so long, we were just starving to see that there was at least one happy Black couple in the world somewhere.

And don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the images. (I mean, the Obama’s are an undeniably a handsome couple and they clearly share mutual respect and tenderness for each other—and we knew their story). But these images were nothing particularly new to me because as a photographer that shoots weddings, I see Black people in love all the time. But I had an “aha moment” and realized, that my experience seeing Black people in love is actually quite rare. And it really got me thinking how blessed I am to be exposed to such beauty on a regular basis and how it positively shapes my view of the world and my own marriage.

So ultimately, I wrote the book because I really wanted to share the beauty that I see in our people and inspire Black people to continue to believe in love.

BPM: Take us inside the book, I Still Do. What are two major events taking place?
There are two wonderful things going on simultaneously in the book. You have these stunningly beautiful, romantic, truly heartwarming images of Black couples in love and getting married all over the world. And Ms. Curry, images are powerful. They effect you viscerally in ways you can’t imagine or control. So without reading one word, anyone that picks up the book will feel the excitement, happiness, pride, anticipation and sheer joy that each of these couples and their families felt on their wedding day.

But opposite these powerful images, are candid interviews with some of my most inspiring couples. And they are so honest and real, they’re really refreshing and funny and they truly ground the book, making the images even more real. You start to actually put stories behind the images. You hear couples talking about how they couldn’t afford their wedding ceremony but wanted to get married so bad, they secretly eloped until they could save up for an actual ceremony…women being honest about how they didn’t want to date their husband initially because he was too young or didn’t have a college degree. They talk about the fights they had in the first years of their marriage over not answering the cell phone, growing up in a female-dominated household, feeling guilty about not being able to cook.

But what’s most inspiring, I think, is that each of them shares how they’re overcoming and learning to love in spite of the challenges. And that makes the pictures even more meaningful.

BPM: Who do you want to reach with your book and the message within?
The very first page of the book is the dedication page and it reads, “For little brown girls everywhere who have never seen themselves in love.”

I meant that dedication literally and figuratively. This book is for women of color of all ages. For the young women of color who have been raised on a misogynistic diet of music videos, reality shows, and don’t have examples of a successful marriage in their circle of life – I just wanted to present an alternative. For new brides and married women, I wanted to show how beautiful we can be when we just smile, humble ourselves and commit the act of loving and being loved. I can’t think of anything more powerful in our community than a Black woman with a genuine smile that radiates love. For the older women who may married or want to pass on the values of commitment and family to their children - I wanted to provide a piece that they could pass on to their children and grandchildren/nieces and nephews without preaching.

Most importantly though, I want this book to speak to the little girl in every woman and remind them that in spite of the negative statistics and seemingly insurmountable odds, that Black people still are falling in love and getting married.

At the risk of complicating this answer too much, I think it's important to point out that I was very careful not to imply that marriage is for everyone (a theme mentioned multiple times in the book), because I think it’s cruel to indoctrinate little Black girls with the vision of their Black prince coming to rescue them because statistics do show that that may not happen. But I also think it’s equally as cruel to deny our little girls the right to have that dream. A minute percentage of our little boys will become professional basketball players, but we don’t stop them from dreaming. For many little girls, their dream of being married will still come true.

BPM: What are some of their specific issues, needs or problems addressed in this book?
For a coffee table book, we really touch on some profound and, I think, common and universally challenging issues for Black women. The importance of communication, personal responsibility, professional and income disparity between couples, defining relationships, sexual promiscuity before marriage…are all discussed in the couples’ interviews.

BPM: What was the most powerful chapter in the book?
I think each chapter will resonate more powerfully to different readers because every Black woman will see herself in at least one of the interviews. But if I had to choose, I would say the last chapter is the most powerful and it’s called, “Completing the Circle.” It’s an interview with a couple that just encompasses so much. The groom had seen six divorces between his parents, the bride grew up in a single family home, but this couple talks about how, in each other, they found someone with a shared purpose. And that purpose was ending the dysfunctional cycles in their family…of failed relationships, uncompleted education, lack of financial planning…So years later, they’ve committed to staying married no matter what, they’ve both completed graduate degrees, they started an asset acquisition company together called NexGen, LLC (for Next Generation) and they have a beautiful son with possibly another on the way. Their story alone demonstrates how powerful we are when we commit to seeking and following our purpose and richly successful and fulfilling it can be when we decide to do it with a partner.

BPM: Ultimately, what do you want readers to gain from your book?
I just want people to be inspired to love. I want to remind people that Black love is still alive.

BPM: What do you think makes your book different from others on the same subject?
Well I think whenever we hear about Black marriages these days, we usually are discussing how few people are getting married or trying to identify who to blame for why that is so. This book is markedly different. There are over 300 images of undeniably happy, married Black couples. As one of my readers wrote me, “The whole concept of Black love is nothing new to us, but you’ve so eloquently captured it in a way I have never seen.”

It’s also different from other wedding idea books, guides or magazines because when we’re normally featured in those publications, we are marginal. We’re thrown in to add a little color. It’ll be us and an Indian couple. And they write as though jumping the broom is the only tradition African-Americans celebrate. My book will tell you the history of the Electric Slide and the Soul Train line to the Yoruba tasting ceremony and the symbolism of cowry shells in your bouquet.

BPM: How can our readers reach you online?
Please drop me an email and let me know what you think about the book at: kea@istilldoweddings.com  or check out the website for the book at: http://www.istilldoweddings.com/.  Send me a tweet. I’m @ ImaginePhotog


Kea Taylor, Imagine Photography
Web: http://www.imaginephotographyonline.com/

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