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W.Va. photographer's portraits go from 'On the Wall' into a book

November 23, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — For 25 years, Shepherdstown Librarian Hali Taylor’s avocation has been photographing people.

Every Thanksgiving weekend since the mid-1990s, residents have flocked to the Entler Hotel in downtown Shepherdstown, in more recent years to Studio 105 on South Princess Street, to see the latest of 30 to 40 subjects who stood before Taylor’s camera.

Her portraits allow viewers to conjure up their own memories of the subjects in them, whether still alive or passed on.

Preferring natural light, Taylor takes many of her portraits before a white-sheeted backdrop in front of the Shepherdstown Library. Her random, early-afternoon photo sessions often draw crowds of the curious.

“My portraits span 25 years and are of the people who make up the strands of the web of the Shepherdstown community; each one constitutes a unique addition to the mix,” Taylor wrote in her artist’s statement in “On the Wall,” her new portrait book. It is a joint publishing venture of Taylor’s and Shepherdstown SQ250, the committee organizing next year’s 250th anniversary celebration of the town.

The book features more than 100 portraits.

A thousand copies have been printed. They can be bought Friday at Four Seasons Books downtown, at Studio 105 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. during Taylor’s 2011 photo display and at a book signing Dec. 11 at the Bridge Gallery on Shepherdstown Pike. It sells for $41.50.

In 1986, Taylor received a grant from the Bank of Charles Town to document Jefferson County in photographs.

“I drove the county roads taking pictures of landscapes, barns, houses, trees, animals, people. It was through that experience that I realized that I loved to photograph people, their faces, hands. I took them from the torso up so I could get up close,” she said.

“I request that my subjects not smile and that they make direct eye contact with the camera. A smile obscures the eyes and reduces the eye-to-eye impact that I look for,” she said in the book’s artist statement.

She has taken more than 700 portraits.

Putting her annual displays together takes time and work to mat and frame them. She hangs them first on her dining room wall before deciding their positions in the gallery.

Her wall transitions itself onto the stone wall that frames McMurran Hall, the town’s iconic landmark on the corner of King and German streets, she said. The wall inspired the book’s title.

The wall, in good weather and bad, serves as the town plaza, the place where the community meets, where locals, young and old, have been sitting for generations.

“People come and go, but the wall stays. It’s a embodiment of the enduring and transient nature of the town,” she said.

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If you go ...

What: An exhibit of black-and-white portraits of Shepherdstown, W.Va., residents by Hali Taylor; shown in conjunction with the release of “On the Wall,” a book of portraits.

When: Opening 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25

Where: The Gallery at Studio 105, 105 Princess St., Shepherdstown.

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