I had the pleasure of roaming Illinois, Kentucky and a chunk of the Missouri Bootheel with Ace Taylor, the 13-year-old nephew of museum director Carla Jordan. Carla mentioned that Ace was interested in photography and was good company, so invited him to hit the road Thursday.
It’s never good to waste a perfectly good seat, so Carla’s ready-to-ramble mother, Carolyn Taylor, filled it. I have the feeling that she may become like Mother was: jingle the keys and she’s ready to go.
I tried to think of a photo-rich environment where taking good pictures would be like shooting fish in a barrel.
It turned out to happen, almost literally. When we got to the spillway at the southeast end of Horseshoe Lake, we saw hundreds of minnow-size fish frolicking in the overflow. We couldn’t tell if they were trying to fight the current to get upstream into the lake or if they were beings swept out of it. A couple of fishermen said they were baby carp. It’s worth clicking on it to make it larger. Maybe someone can tell us if the fishermen were right.
The kid has a good eye
I got my first camera at 12. Ace is so far ahead of where I was at his age that there is no comparison. I didn’t point out any particular shot to him. I would give him a little background about why the location was interesting from a geologic or historical perspective, then I’d look around and Ace was already scoping out angles and getting busy.
Experimenting with framing
Ace wasn’t a plain old point-and-shoot photographer. He experimented with shooting through things and with the relationships of shapes. He also had a good grasp of depth of field and the relationship between lens settings and shutter speeds. He tried using slower shutter speeds when shooting the fish photo so the water movement would show up, then he switched to higher speeds to freeze the fish. All of this without a word of advice from me.
In fact, I tried to capture the jumping fish in a video, but Ace aced me hands-down with his still shot.
Not afraid to get in the middle of it
I told him that photographers have a responsibility to document the world around them for future generations. He took a dramatic photo of a machine eating one of my favorite old buildings in Cairo.
“You realize,” I told him, “that you have taken the last photograph of that building that anyone will ever see. If you come back tomorrow, it’ll be gone, and the opportunity to document it will never be there again.”
[Note to Ace’s Mom: he was very cautious. He was careful to step in areas clear of nails and glass, and I always made sure he wasn’t any place where he was in danger.]
A deliberate shooter
The kid wasn’t a pray and spray shooter. After he took a photo, he would study it to see if he had captured what he was looking for or if he should take another crack at it.
A quiet kid
I don’t know that I’ve ever met any boy that age who was so quiet and soft-spoken. When he DID talk, he had something to say. I liked that.
The next day, he was helping Carla at the History Center in Jackson, so we didn’t roam around. I stopped by the center to give him a polarizing filter that I discovered had a small scratch. It probably won’t make any difference, but I’m persnickety about that kind of thing.
We talked gear and techniques, then I watched him wander around the room checking out how the filter would eliminate reflections. I give him credit for understanding when you DON’T want to use it.
“I WANTED the reflections in the water in the picture of the cypress trees, so I wouldn’t use it there, would I?” he asked.
You nailed it, kid.
If he continues at the pace he’s on, he won’t have to talk: he can let his camera and photos speak for him.
Ace Taylor’s work
Here’s a selection of what Ace photographed in roughly six hours (including 150 miles of driving). Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move around.
Keep in mind while you are looking at these pictures that Ace Taylor is 13 years old.