Brian Taylor has been volunteering with L’Arche GWDC for nine years – he came to make one video and kept coming back.
“You guys grabbed my attention,” he said when we sat down to talk about his volunteer work. “I saw that L’Arche was a nice organization to belong to. I was looking for some way to give back.”
The kindness of the people, the well-organized and high quality work he witnessed, and the opportunity to use his photography skills for others brought Brian back again and again, he explained. Through almost a decade of sharing the L’Arche story via his photography and video, Brian has been a good friend, a fantastic volunteer, and a creative force for L’Arche.
As we spoke, he showed me some of his favorite photos and pointed emphatically between a core person and a friend in one: “See that!”
“What would you call that?” I asked.
Brian paused for a moment: “A connection.”
Brian pointed out the connection captured in this photo between Fritz, a core person – seated – and a friend. “And as you pull out you start seeing the story.” Stepping back allows the viewer to notice details around the edge – the bowl for the blessing. Fritz’s mother Emmy Lu sitting nearby. The L’Arche community celebrating a member.
How it all began
Brian took photos for the yearbook in high school and college, but “then I had to get practical.” Unsure of what he wanted to study in college, Brian went into the army for a year, then graduated college with an ROTC scholarship, returned to the army as an officer and went on to spend the rest of his career at the CIA. Throughout it all, photography was at the back of his mind. When it came time to retire, his colleagues asked what he would do with his spare time – what he did was sign up for a photography course.
At the end of the course, every student conducted a practicum with a local organization. Brian was assigned to work with L’Arche GWDC. Aware of the short time frame for the project, he jumped in early and started spending time in the homes where core people – adults with intellectual disabilities – and assistants live together. His photos and video culminated in a video project called “Just Say Yes.” L’Arche leadership was grateful for the video and Brian returned to shoot SolidariDay. He then asked to come on board as a regular volunteer.
L’Arche invited Brian to tutor core person Hazel Pulliam in photography and to spend time at Highland House. His eyes lit up remembering some of Hazel’s work, particularly the photos she took on a trip to Philadelphia: “She was on fire!”
The L’Arche Approach
Brian recollected his first summer job in college which was at a facility for people with disabilities. Remembering the locked wards and the fencing he remarked, “They closed it down because it was so horrific.”
In contrast, Brian was struck when someone at L’Arche commented that Down syndrome is normal, an ordinary occurrence that happens in the population of human beings. “This is normal,” Brian agreed, “why would they segregate people with disabilities off like they did at the turn of the century? I like that you’re integrated.” He gave the example of how the neighbors know Highland House, and when he and Hazel go on walks people stop and say hello, greeting her by name.
Brian also mentioned how companies could learn something from L’Arche, particularly from how L’Arche community members intentionally plan out their goals, which he said would be useful in helping employees of many organizations. “You don’t tear down the person, you talk about what their gifts are, you talk about what their strengths are, and find out where they need help, and work on it.”
“Shooting here has made me a better photographer,” Brian said. His photos were mostly “literal” early on, portraits of people standing in their bedroom, for example. “Now my photos show more interaction than straight portraits.”
As Brian walked me through his favorite photos he kept returning to those moments of interaction, pointing between two people as they sat near each other, or hugged, or received a blessing. “Look what’s going on here!” he said, “see the connection?”
Brian emphasized that as a photographer he takes care not to invade anyone’s personal space or private moments and gave the example of feet washing ceremonies, which he finds “highly personal.”
And what about his own personal growth from time with L’Arche? “I’m more patient.”
Nine years with L’Arche provides a wealth of memories – Brian remembered Linda Garcia, a core person who passed away, praying before a meal: “This better be good, amen.” He uses that prayer now, he said with a smile.
He mentioned Hazel’s impressive photography in Philadelphia again, which he edited into a video: “That was a nice day. Seeing the outcome… I felt our time together had proven something there.”
To anyone considering volunteering at L’Arche Brian says, “You don’t really have to accomplish anything, just be part of the community. Come.”
Brian picked a few meaningful favorites from the thousands of photos he’s taken over the years.
“You can see the interaction…two actors willing to play with me. Very quickly they trusted me.” Unlike photography used to reveal tragic circumstances, Brian’s goal is to show the happiness and joy at L’Arche.
“This speaks to you.” The photo of the daily after-dinner time of prayer and reflection “came out a little edgy. It’s grainy and not well lit, but it caught tension.”
This photo was part of a series of Halloween photos Brian took that “blows my mind,” he said. One of his flashes had broken that day and he had to improvise, and he managed to catch the excitement and playful good times with what lighting he could.
Brian mentioned how he loved capturing the moments when Fritz blesses someone.
In this photo “something’s coming at them and they are all grouped up here” – an image of protection and togetherness.
This photo wasn’t set up to be anything special, snapped quickly on the sidewalk, but “look what’s going on here,” said Brian, pointing to the subjects of the photo – the joyous connection is apparent.
If you want to volunteer with L’Arche, check out our volunteer opportunities.