Professional makeup artist and photographer Carla Taylor plays by her own rules.
By Cy White, Photos by Carla Taylor
Carla “CT” Taylor is a ball of positive energy. Her effervescence translates to some of the most visually stunning makeup art. Streaks of hot pink, deep blue, royal purple paint the human canvas. Her confessed obsession with photography means she also takes the reins as photographer, a rarity in the makeup artist community. All things combined create an artist whose work lurks just on the periphery of the bounds of commercial photography and adds a pop of color and fearless imagination to even the blandest corporate portraiture.
Hers is a lifelong passion. From childhood, she found herself drawn to the weird and wonderful that is the entertainment industry. A love that seems to run in the blood. “My dad played a big part,” she says. “He’s a tailor. He used to get Vogue magazines delivered to the house. I think it started off really as being an inspiration to him for making his suits and wedding dresses.
“What he didn’t realize is that it was inspiration for me as well. I would take his subscriptions and just look through the pages and see all of the beautiful fashion shows and all of the amazing clothes, the models wearing the makeup, and I just gravitated to it. I used to draw out designs, and beg him to make them for me,” she continues, a giggle giving the words sweetness. “He’s made a few outfits on my Barbie dolls.”
A product of the MTV generation of the ’90s, during a time when music channels hit a stride of videos that pushed the boundaries of what the medium could do, Taylor drew inspiration from what she saw on the screen. “I was looking for music videos and trying to do my makeup the way I would see Lil’ Kim or Brandy, trying to just recreate those looks.” Makeup became her gateway to the world, a way to step out of the strict gaze of her parents and really exist in a world of her own creation. “It was something that really uplifted me,” she says. “I would go to school, do my friend’s makeup in the bathroom. That was me even through college as well. I went to Clark Atlanta University, and I would travel around Georgia doing makeup at Clark Atlanta and then became more professional.”
Her love of the visual hit a peak when it came to photography. “My sister had a Polaroid camera,” she says. “I was always so desperate to see the picture. She’d let me snap the picture, but she’s like, ‘Oh, let me hurry up and give it to someone.’ But I just needed to get my hands on those pictures,” she says animatedly. “I needed that instant gratification.”
The aggregate effect of all these inspirations and influences culminates in the artist she is today. But in the world of makeup art, she is the lilium inter spinas, the lily among the thorns. She’s an anomaly in an arts industry that’s oddly conservative when it comes to the medium in which its artists can play. “A lot of times it was looked down upon, anyone who tried to cross over,” she reveals. “There was a saying back home that people needed to stay in their own lane. You heard that a lot. So I just really worried about what people would think of me.”
The stigma of being both makeup artist and photographer produced “ctshootsyou,” a pseudonym Taylor affected in order to hide the fact she dances in both worlds. Eventually she found the courage to leap from the shadows.
Despite the brilliance of her candor and the sunshine in her voice, she’s had her fair share of discrimination. She’s had to contest with men who saw her as a wilting violet, a kitten playing with the “big dogs.” “I remember going to a studio, and there was this other photographer. He’s like, ‘Oh, do you need me to set up your lights for you?’” She brushes the comment off, but the heat in her tone reveals the man’s attitude still rankles. She’s suffered slights to her professional capabilities from men who lack her skill behind the lens. For instance, while completing her FOTO//HOUSE artist in residency last year, “There was a gentleman, and I guess he’s a photographer as well. He was like, ‘I wish I had your editor,’ almost [with]that assumption of ‘Your pictures don’t look good without editing.’”
However, sideways comments about her technical proficiency have never stopped Taylor. “I just love what I do so much that I don’t feel like I would let anyone take it away in the sense of breaking my spirit down,” she says. “I feel like I have something to offer, and it may not be whatever the other photographer’s doing. I do try to march to the beat of my own drum. I like to stand out. Even before I became a photographer, even before I became a makeup artist, I was just always the apple among oranges, just doing my own thing regardless of what anyone thought.”
Taylor’s empathic nature allows her to bring out beauty in her models in ways they might have never imagined. “I remember my first client cried because she felt beautiful in the makeup that I did,” she says. “I’m like, ‘This is bigger than aesthetics. This is actually healing people.’ For someone to feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel amazing. I feel like I can take on the world now because of what you did.’ It definitely helped to seal the deal, me wanting to do this for people for as long as I’m alive.”
Self-taught, Taylor continues to take every opportunity she can to enhance upon what’s already there. She encourages young women who want to make any aspect of art their lifelong profession to keep that same openness to learning, to personal evolution. “Find your own style,” she says. “It’s like taking your mama’s recipe for peach cobbler, but then you’re like, ‘Instead of cinnamon, let me add a little nutmeg,’ or ‘Let me make it vegan.’ Take what you get, but you make it your own. Be forgiving of yourself, but never stop learning. Be open to growth, and if anything is too stressful, let it go. No matter what it is, if it’s not geared to your growth, your progression, let it go.”