Taylar Stauss: Musician, Photographer, and Mobile Darkroom Tech!
Easily the best part of ShootFilmCo is that I get to meet some of the greatest, most interesting artists doing the most unique work. When I came across was Taylar Stauss was doing, I had to talk to her and learn more about it.
She is photographer, musician, and she tours with a mobile darkroom! I'm going to turn it over to her to tell you all about it:
Tell us about yourself
I’m Taylar! I was born and raised in Nashville, TN and currently live here as well.
How did you get started taking photos?
I’ve been taking photos for as long as I can remember. My first camera was a little P&S that I took to school and parks and pretty much anywhere I could. I’d save my pocket money and get them developed at Walgreens. In high school and college I took disposable cameras to every single party. That’s more or less where my love for (and style of) candid, behind-the-scenes photography came from. It annoyed my friends to no end, but ten years later they’re all grateful that I did it because no one else in our friend group documented those moments.
You're in a band: what's your musical background and how did that band come to be?
Yes! I’m the frontwoman for Peach. The band’s inception is a bit of a winding tale.
I actually have a pretty deep musical background. I was in choir for ten years, as well as musical theater and opera. I was professionally trained at UT Chattanooga for two years before switching to Music Business at MTSU. I quit singing about four years ago.
Peach was born out of a desperate need for catharsis. Last year I was blindsided by secrets my husband had kept from me that spanned the entirety of our relationship and led to our divorce. It was brutal. Despite my best efforts to keep our relationship alive, everything was ripped out from under me: my home, life, future, everything I knew.
I found all of this out three days before going on tour with Early Humans (the band I work most closely with). We had a run with West Means Home, and I found out that they lived about two and a half hours away in Florence, Alabama. Nashville was dead for me, and I was wasting away. I decided (rather rashly) to move to Florence. I figured if I was going to start over, at least I’d know a couple of people. One of West Means Home’s guitarists (Zack) and I became fast friends. We were hanging out at a friend’s house one night and, after generous amounts of whiskey, I decided to show him some things I’d written, and sang for the first time in a long time. We wrote a song that night, and within 2 months we formed Peach, wrote two more songs, and recorded the Peach EP with two members of Early Humans and our current drummer.
If I’m being honest, the entire EP was kind of a big “fuck you” as well as the only healthy outlet I had for my horrifying grief. Back when we were first dating, my ex-husband and I were at a Hozier concert. I’m used to the DIY scene, and singing in general, so singing along to the music is my way of enjoying a show. I was asked, rather coldly, to stop singing because, “we came to hear Hozier, not you.” It was the first time in my life that anyone had asked me NOT to sing. It affected me so badly that I did stop. Completely. Until Peach.
Zack and I decided to part ways after West Means Home started gaining traction. He gave me his blessing to continue Peach without him, and to take the songs we’d been working on with me. I moved back home in February; Peach is now made up of myself, Ryan Vaniman, Adam Cox, and Zach Crooks. We’ve all been friends for over ten years, graduated high school together, have all been around each other during various musical pursuits, and never even thought about making music together. It was perfect timing; everything fell into place and we just enjoyed our full-band debut and EP release show in Nashville this past Wednesday. We’re currently working on a potential split, singles, and a full-length record. It’s really exciting and incredibly humbling. I never thought I’d do anything like this. I never expected anyone to care. I just needed to do something to get the poison out. The reception has been absolutely astounding.
You've given yourself a very unique project: you're developing and scanning your own film on the road. What brought you to think of that?
Honestly, I hate digital photography. It’s necessary on the road to provide daily content for bands, but I don’t enjoy it. Film was my first love; I learned to shoot on a manual 35mm camera. I wanted to find a way to incorporate film on tour without having to wait for the end to send it off for development. I started compiling a list of gear I’d need to make it a reality about a month ago and just took the mobile lab on the road for the first time last week.
What challenges have you faced while shooting and developing on the road?
Mostly exhaustion, and forgetting essential pieces of gear. We’re in a van most of the day, I’m trying to catch film-worthy shots between shows and pleasure stops while also shooting digital photo and video. By the end of the night, wherever we’d end up, I was completely wiped and had to wait for everyone to use the bathroom, shower, do whatever before I could get in to develop and dry the film. Motivation was hard to find. My scanner isn't the greatest either, so it's difficult to get quality renderings of the film from time to time.
Being that it was my first tour with the mobile rig, I forgot a few things that were essential to the operation. We were three states away before I realized I had left my film reel in another developing tank. I tried developing a roll without one and ruined half of it. I also forgot a can opener, stop bath, a container to save my fix, and a USB-C adapter for my scanner. Thankfully most of it was easy to find; I ended up using rice vinegar as my stop bath and a friend of the band had a USB-C adapter. I wasted some fix, but otherwise it was alright. Huge shoutout to Safelight District (Chattanooga’s new community darkroom) for providing me with a reel. I was desperately searching for a solution after I left Atlanta’s only darkroom supply store empty-handed, found them, and reached out through Facebook. Turns out that their darkroom was right next door to that night’s venue, and they left a reel on the front steps for me. If anyone ever wonders what the film community is like, that’s a perfect picture of the love we share with one another.
What gear/film are you shooting with?
I shoot with a Nikon FG-20 and a 50mm f/1.8 pancake. The FG-20 was my first camera, given to me by my dad three years ago. It’s still my daily shooter, despite having purchased and tried automatics (like my poor Nikon N80, which is collecting dust). I love that camera more than anything. I was shooting with a Sunpak 422D Thyristor flash, which got demolished the third day of tour. Thankfully we were able to stop through Atlanta on the road and I got myself a Nikon SB-16 Speedlight for $20. I’d wanted it for a while, so it was a very exciting purchase.
For this tour I shot on Ilford Delta 100 and Ilford FP4+. I’ve done C-41 development by hand, but because of the temperature requirements (and lack of experience) I just shot black and white. I’d REALLY like to figure out a way to get a Jobo on the road so I can do color as well.
What chemicals are you using?
Ilfosol-3 Developer, rice vinegar (1:4) for stop, and Ilford Rapid Fix. Typically I’ll use an actual stop bath or distilled white vinegar dilution, but since neither was available I found the most plain vinegar I could that had at least a 4% acidity. We stayed with one of the band member’s parents one night and raided the spice cabinet for that one.
For those who haven't developed their own film yet, any words of wisdom and encouragement?
Film is a temperamental, unforgiving, frustrating, incredible, and glorious art form; the lessons you learn from messing it up are, at times, extremely demoralizing. Don’t give up. Give it the time it deserves; the reward is in the wait.
I wasted my first ten rolls of film. I was loading my camera incorrectly and basically shot photos on the same frame over and over again without having a clue. The lab I sent it to (and my film mentor) emailed me to let me know, sent me ten rolls of his own stock, and told me to try again. I’ve never looked back.
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