Wesley Taylor talks city energy and leaning into his heart’s desires

What started as a pastime (profile pic, anyone?) turned into a business for Wesley Taylor, a Chicago-based photographer with big dreams and an even bigger heart. Here, we get a glimpse of his perspective.

We’re putting you on the other side of the camera today! Did you go to school for photography?

I actually went for music, and then marketing.

When did you know you wanted to get into photography?

It was freshman year in college. I had a camera, but I didn’t really do anything special with it. Around sophomore or junior year, I got back into photography. I started an iphone project, and that’s where it took off. That’s when people started thinking of me as a photographer. It was a few years ago, on Facebook, so people were all about profile pictures. Everyone wanted a Wesley Taylor profile picture.

And then I started shooting some weddings and engagements. Once I started gaining more Instagram followers, that is when I started doing more corporate work, as well. That opened the business side of it.

What was your last project?

A Miller High Life video for the holidays; we created a champagne tower. (Wes proceeds to share the video, leaving us with a hankering for a cold one.)

And what’s next?

I am working with Allbirds (the shoe company), doing some Chicago imagery. And then Hedge House Furniture; I’m doing some work for them. We’ve been working for the last six months designing two pieces that would work for me, but also that they’re going to add into their regular rotation; one is a coffee table, and a record cabinet.

Are you designing the pieces?

Yeah, well I at least got to speak into them. How big they should be, how many drawers. They’re kind of a mid-century modern.

Very cool. When it comes to your art, what inspires you?

People inspire me. I really love capturing people as they are. Whether they know—like whether it’s a wedding and they’re on their best behavior—or, like the other day, I shot with a friend that’s a photographer, and he doesn’t get shot very often. He was really nervous and didn’t really know what to do. As we were shooting and going through the process, he got so excited because he loved seeing himself on the other side. Those moments are really inspiring to me.

I’m excited about making an impact...It doesn’t even need to be world-changing, necessarily, even if it’s one person thinking about something a little differently, I think that’s worth it.

How does living in Chicago feed into that?

I grew up in the suburbs. I always remember when I was visiting Chicago enjoying the energy of the city. Whether you are feeding into the energy or just observing it, it’s still really helpful. I think Chicago is a very creative city; at least I have found a lot of creative friends, people that inspire me, and people to collaborate with. So I think the availability of that, the energy of the city, and the possibilities. We have the lake, the insane urban [space], and architecture. Random spaces like this. Just having different options and lots of people around.

Is there a special place you go to feed that inspiration?

Not really a particular place, honestly. Like I said, people inspire me more than places. Places will get my creative juices flowing, but people inspire the actual moment. In a lot of my photos, I am going for raw emotion and intimacy. Even in a space like this, it inspires me because it has great light, but a lot of times I will get rid of the surroundings to just have that intimate moment.

If you could create an intimate moment anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Does it have to be somewhere new? (He sighs.) There are so many places.

What about a time a shoot took you somewhere new or unexpected?

Well, if it’s unexpected, Paris for the second time last year. I was working with Parachute [Home]. I work with Parachute fairly regularly, and they reached out because they had an event in Paris and asked if I knew any photographers there. We worked it out so that I was able to go. I was there for about a week, and just got to experience the city. It was my second solo trip anywhere, so there was a lot of self-reflection. As someone who gets a lot of their energy and inspiration from other people, just having to focus on other things, the city itself, learning about myself—that was a really cool experience. Because I was there for work, in some cases I wanted to go and shoot different things, and sometimes I just wanted to exist.

What about your work excites you?

I’m excited about making an impact. Using my art and my voice to inspire or change someone’s perspective. It doesn’t even need to be world-changing, necessarily, even if it’s one person thinking about something a little differently, I think that’s worth it. So finding different ways to do that. This year, I’m working on getting more art into the real world. Most everything is just digital [form] right now. Prints in the house, selling prints, and potentially doing a book. I also love collaboration. Bringing people together, and having them all work on their strengths.

Speaking of strengths, when do you think it means to be your best self?

(He pauses to have an introspective moment.) Being authentically you. Honestly, surrounding yourself with people with whom you can be yourself. I feel like I’m best when I’m with really good friends. Leaning into the desires of your heart. Being open to new experiences, new ways of doing things—that’s creative. I take my camera almost everywhere—I’ve gotten better at not doing that. Being open and ready to create something. I don’t know if that’s an answer to your question.

Yes, it totally is. Where do you see that taking you?

I want to do more print work. One of my ultimate goals is to be a celebrity photographer or at least be a part of that world. I would love to do portraits at the Oscars or the Tonys.

And now, looking back, what advice would you give to an 18-year-old you?

Keep shooting. Don’t worry as much about what other people think. Stop shopping at Express.

Enough with the bright shirts and the matching ties. Just wear denim, please.

(We share a trip down memory lane and a good laugh.)

Rapid fire:

What is one thing on your bucket list? Doing a full shoot with Jennifer Hudson. And Aretha Franklin. Together.

Favorite shoot to-date? Any shoot where I surprise myself.

Favorite spot in Chicago? Longman and Eagle. I have had brunch there no less than 30 times.  

It’s Saturday night—where are you? Eating fries somewhere. In a perfect world, I’m hosting friends at home. Making sure everyone is comfortable and enjoying each other’s company.

Where are the best french fries in the city? Soho Chicago. The Allis. Small Cheval.

How do you drink your coffee/cold brew? Black or with oat milk.

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