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A striking floor-to-ceiling image from Montana’s Glacier National Park is the largest work hanging in Ubuntu Fine Art Gallery, one of the newest additions to Germantown Avenue.
The massive centerpiece is called “The Isaac,” and it came to life after gallery owner Steven CW Taylor experienced a serendipitous meeting during a 12-mile hike through the wilderness in 2018. Its namesake, Issac, is a close friend, but was only a stranger at the start of the icy Montana trek.
“He convinced me to walk a mile off the trail, and then walking a mile off the trail, I got this incredible shot of a stream that’s created by the glacier melt,” Taylor recalled.
The 39-year-old Philadelphia native opened the gallery on Sept. 5 with a colorful ribbon cutting ceremony and performance by local musician and entrepreneur Chill Moody.
Taylor’s travel photography will be the sole display at the Black-owned, single-artist, fine photography gallery, making it a unique fixture in the city. And “The Isaac” is more than just a beautiful photo with a cool story behind it. It embodies the ethos behind Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is a South African philosophy that names our shared existence, or as Taylor puts it, “the universal bond of sharing that connects all of humanity.”
Inside the gallery at 5423 Germantown Ave., visitors will find high-resolution prints from the nearly two-dozen countries and handful of national parks that comprise Taylor’s travels, from the Grand Canyon to Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“Each image is a portal,” Taylor said, “in which you will transport yourself to a different space, a different place. Know that Horseshoe Bend in Arizona is real, it’s in the United States.”
Taylor grew up in the Germantown neighborhood where his fine art gallery now lives. He called the Chew Avenue block where he was raised, “one of the most trauma-ridden places in Philadelphia.”
Placing his type of gallery in that neighborhood was intentional. He contrasted Germantown to neighborhoods like Rittenhouse Square, where walking-distance access to fine arts is abundant. Everyone experiences trauma, he said, but certain neighborhoods lack access to relief through the arts.
Ubuntu joins the ranks of other Black-owned art galleries in Philadelphia, including October Gallery in Germantown and Urban Art Gallery on 52nd Street.
Taylor’s journey to gallery proprietor was not linear. First, he’s an engineer by trade. Well, kind of. “My degree is in criminal justice,” said the Saint Peter’s College grad.
After a brief stint as a corrections officer in DC, he got hired for a data job at prestigious consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. He rose through the ranks there to what he described as a challenging, comfy-paying, senior-level engineering position.
He left in April, and now uses his engineer’s mind to approach photography.
“I didn’t come at the camera from an aspect of an artist,” Taylor said. “I came at it from the aspect of an engineer. How does the machine work? How can I get this machine to get me my desired result?”
Embarking on the next step of his professional journey, Taylor’s once again leaning on ubuntu, the idea that “people are people through other people,” he explained.
“I’m not self taught, I learned from other people,” said Taylor. “I’m an engineer because other people freely gave me their intellect. I’m a photographer because other people freely gave me their intellect.”
Taylor wanted to make his art appeal to a range of consumers and collectors. Pieces are priced between $150 for a 12×18-inch print and $6,500 for a 48×72-inch, ready-to-hang, acrylic-backed work. They’re produced using archival paper and archival ink, which Taylor says can last as long as 150 years with proper care and conditions. Every print comes with gloves, care instructions and a certificate of authenticity, and is 1 of 60 limited edition.
The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday to Sunday and by appointment Monday to Wednesday.
Entering Ubuntu Fine Art Gallery is also free. Taylor hopes that through further exposing his community to upscale art and international landscapes, he can freely give to those who walk through the gallery.
“I wanted that same access to be available to the people in my community,” Taylor said. “That way, you can come into the gallery, you can kind of lose yourself from the trauma-ridden world that’s outside of these doors, and, through each image, you can transplant yourself to a different place.”