Taylor has sought to do the same not only through his art, but in his everyday life.
What does a photo of SEPTA’s Route 26 bus barreling down Chew Avenue at night have in common with the illuminated Arc de Triomphe in Paris?
Plenty, when seen through the lens of Steven C.W. Taylor, a fine art photographer who grew up in Philadelphia, has worked and traveled abroad, and now founded a single-artist fine art gallery that specializes in large format images in the heart of Central Germantown.
To Taylor, these seemingly disparate images convey the same message - hope.
“Ubuntu (oo-boon-too) means seeing humanity in others. It reminds people of our connection to one another,” said Taylor, who opened the gallery in September 2021.
Taylor has sought to do the same not only through his art, but in his everyday life. His decision to move back to his childhood home in Germantown was Taylor’s way of staying grounded and connected while providing a home base from which to launch a gallery whose mission is to invest in the community he loves.
And by doing so, Taylor says he has become part of a Germantown renaissance, a transformation he describes as “a celebration of its Black artists, writers, dancers and musicians.”
Ubuntu is on the same block as Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books, and Kinesics Dance Dynamics, a dance studio that is converting its space into a blackbox theater.
The neighborhood is Taylor’s home turf.
“I grew up in East Germantown, the youngest of three brothers. I was a typical Black kid who went to college to play football,” he said.
Majoring in criminal justice at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, Taylor’s first job was as a youth corrections officer. But a chance meeting led to a career in software engineering with Booz Allen Hamilton, a Fortune 500 company in Washington, D.C.
That was the first of many “right time - right place” events for Taylor.
“In 2011, I wanted to return to Philly and started working remotely for Booz Allen Hamilton,” Taylor said. “I moved back into the house where I grew up. My mother had bought it in 1969 when she was the first Black woman on the block. Mom wanted me to buy an expensive home in another area, but I wanted to invest in my community.”
While renovating the house, Taylor took a three-year hiatus from work and discovered photography. “I got a GoPro [camera] and started taking videos of peoples’ food stories and posting them on Instagram,” he said. It wasn’t long before admirers of Taylor’s videos asked him to shoot their weddings. Eventually, Taylor transitioned from videos to still photography. It wasn’t long before images he posted on Instagram went viral.
“A Forbes Magazine senior VP reached out to me. He told me I was ‘good’ and started paying me to contribute positive images of Blackness to For(bes) The Culture, a site dedicated to creating equity for people of color,” Taylor said.
The Forbes work gave him wings to travel the world. And everywhere he went, he said, he looked for opportunities to go beyond the usual tourist experience and enter into the authentic culture of the subjects in his images.
In Kenya, his photographs capture the exhilaration of young boys jumping into a lake. Another presents a Masai elder draped majestically in red fabric, and a black and white portrait of a Zebra.
But Taylor doesn’t have to go to exotic lands to discover joy in daily life. Whether he snaps photos in Bali, Brazil, Abu Dhabi or a U.S. national park, the message is always the same: be yourself.
Taylor returned to working remotely as a senior software engineer from 2015 until April 2021. “That is when I made the decision to invest everything I had in the creation of a fine art photography gallery,” he said. And he does mean everything.
Inspired by the large format photography of the Peter Lik Gallery in Las Vegas, Taylor offers oversized acrylic and framed archival print photos.
“We get a lot of walk-in traffic,” said Taylor, referring to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church which is adjacent to the gallery, Germantown Friends School across the street, and the nearby Gaffney Fabrics and Uncle Bobbie’s Cafe.
“I love my neighborhood,” said Taylor, who said he is “paying it forward” by locating his gallery in Germantown. In the process, Taylor said, he is breaking down the barriers separating communities of color from direct access to the arts and culture.
Ubuntu Fine Art Gallery is open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, and by appointment only- Monday through Wednesday. For information: call 215-621-6707 or visit ubuntufa.com.