Self-portrait of Rashod Taylor and his son L. J.
Rashod Taylor

The Life of a Little Black Boy in America

The joys and vulnerabilities of a Black childhood, as seen from a father’s gaze

Photographs by Rashod Taylor

Rashod Taylor, a fine-art photographer based in Bloomington, Illinois, has been documenting Black American life for years. His ongoing analog photo series Little Black Boy is an intimate and weighty record of his son’s childhood. It began in 2015, when his son was born. This year, after the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protest movement that followed, Taylor’s black-and-white family portraits acquired even more gravity. We recently talked about how fatherhood, patriotism, and Blackness coalesce, in both joyous and uneasy ways, in his project.

Taylor’s reflections from our interview have been edited for length and clarity.

Standing in My Parents’ Backyard

There’s a difference between a little white boy growing up in America and a little Black boy. In my photo Deep Sleep, it looks like my son is sleeping, and it’s beautiful. But for me, the image also has this postmortem look. It reveals my fears of him not coming home one day and having to bury him, like so many other Black parents have. There are things I am already teaching him that other kids his age are not thinking of. Like, Hey, we probably shouldn’t wear a hoodie at night. At the same time, he’s just a little boy in the United States.

That’s also what I want to show: the love and tenderness of growing up Black. As a family, we are just living our lives, like everybody else. My son is 5. I started to photograph him the day he was born. Over time, as I looked at the images I was making, I noticed they were going deeper than just the standard dad snapshots. They began to represent not only documentary, but also a commentary on the Black experience. What happened this year was a stark reminder of the deep-rooted racism still present in our country. However, there seems to be a raised awareness and consciousness of what Black people go through. For me, it reiterated the importance of the perspectives brought forth by my photographs.

Tired of Fighting
Getting in Trouble
Bath Time

When I was younger, I would hear my dad talk about his travels. Seeing other cultures and other people was great, but he would always come back home and say, “I am really happy to live in America. I feel proud to be Black and a U.S. citizen.” As I get older, I have found that I feel the same way. But there’s also this duality. Because I love America, but America doesn’t love me back. It’s a weight I am bearing for my son before he can handle it on his own.

I got interested in photography through family albums. If you look at the history of photography, you probably won’t find too many examples of fathers photographing their sons. There are some prominent women, like Sally Mann, who photographed their children. But not a lot of men—particularly Black men. This record of the relationship between my son and me shows vulnerability. I want him to grow up knowing that he doesn’t have to be tough all the time. It’s okay to be sensitive. It’s okay to have a picture cuddling up with your dad.

My son has always been an integral collaborator in the art-making process of this series. At the beginning, he was always happy to pose for me. In the last year or so, it’s turned into more of a negotiation. But the thing is, once he sees the pictures, he loves them. He’s like, Oh, wow. That’s me.

Deep Sleep