Monday, November 18, 2013

Candacy Taylor, Untangling Race, Labor, and Class in American Salons and Diners

In a talk organized by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and cosponsored by CSW, cultural critic Candacy Taylor will be speaking on November 20 from 4 to 6 pm in Public Affairs 5391. Taylor is the founder/owner of Taylor Made Culture, a company that produces written and exhibition work that challenges societal norms. In her talk, she will be sharing what she has learned about the inextricable ties of gender, labor, class, and identity through her work on “America's main streets, urban hubs and rural byways” ( Based on two of her projects, the talk is titled “Counter Culture and American Hair: Untangling Race, Labor, and Class in American Salons and Diners.”

A native of Columbus, Ohio, Taylor holds a Master’s degree in Visual Criticism from California College of the Arts and a B. A. in Fine Arts from the San Francisco State University. She worked for many years as a graphic designer, preparing visual materials for such companies as Quaker Oats, Beach Blanket Babylon, Hallmark, Java One, Lincoln Mercury, Hyundai and Banana Republic. For nearly ten years, she has researched and produced multimedia projects that document subcultures in the U.S.

One of her first projects, "Counter Culture"consisting of a book, traveling exhibition, radio documentary, lecture series, and now possibly a television series (ABC/Sony has optioned the project)—encapsulates the world of the “classic diner waitresses” and takes the opportunity to celebrate the hard-working women who continue to greet us with warm hospitality and endless cups of coffee, time after time: “Taylor has traveled over 26,000 miles photographing and interviewing waitresses in forty-three American cities…defying the assumption that waitressing is a grueling, thankless job,” that does not fit into the tight construct of the American dream( These women “believe that waitressing keeps them in shape, sharpens their minds and fulfills their desire to make meaningful human connections.” As a former waitress herself, Taylor has captured the stories of these “lifers”—the endearing nickname for waitresses aged fifty and over—in a very acute manner.

Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress, published by Cornell University Press in 2009, received much praise and was featured in The New YorkerMs. Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. Alison Owings, author of Hey, Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray, wrote, “The photographs, testimonials, and insider information in this beautifully designed book all exalt ‘lifer’ waitresses—as they have every reason to be exalted. Counter Culture will make any reader yearn to reach a waitress's honor roll: to be a regular.” In its review, Publishers Weekly noted, “With color photographs (mostly by Taylor) of waitresses in their diners on almost every page plus feisty first-person anecdotes about how the women handle nasty customers and customers who sneak out without paying the bill (one waitress threw a ketchup bottle at them), this unique perspective is much like the professional diner waitress-difficult to pigeonhole, impossible to ignore.” The touring exhibition, which included 53 photographs and 14 text panels, was listed in Southwest Airlines’ top ten things to see in the United States.

In “The real Flos and Alices of the world,” an article in the Los Angeles Times from October 30, 2009,  Mindy Farabee wrote, “To create Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress, Candacy Taylor's master's thesis-turned-coffee-table book, the writer spent the last decade crisscrossing the United States, interviewing women over age 50 who had spent their working lives in American diners. As a result, Counter Culture combines 26,000 miles of chance encounters, heavy research, snippets of oral history and more than 100 new and archival photos to fashion a surprisingly complex portrait of a thoroughly unglamorous occupation.”

For her "American Hair" project, Taylor has been documenting hair salons that predominantly serve a range of communities, including African Americans, Dominicans, Jamaicans, Japanese, Orthodox Jews, Pakistanis, and transgender communities, to document how the socialization process that surrounds and inhabits salons, invokes identity. She found that “salons are being nudged out of their comfort zone to serve a new, mixed-race America with different hair textures” ( 

This project won an ArtBound contest at KCET, a public television station in Los Angeles, and was featured on national television. Taylor has also received grants from the San Francisco Arts Commission and California Council for the Humanities to document five beauty salons and to showcase the results in a photo exhibition. She received the prestigious Archie Green Fellowship from the Library of Congress at the American Folklife Center for "American Hair." This project—which includes a book, traveling exhibit, and lecture series—seeks to understand how hair, particularly in the context of beauty salons, symbolizes an evolving culture and identity within the U.S. The book will focus on how a growing number of multiracial populations are challenging the norms that surround ethnic physical characteristics and explores the impact of a more integrated population on traditional salon culture.

“CSW is happy to partner with the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment,” says Rachel Lee, CSW Associate Director, “to highlight the research and art of Taylor that focuses on what feminists have called ‘reproductive labor’—nurturing work of food preparation, grooming, and emotional sustenance—and which theorists of empire such as Negri and Hardt (and the Italian autonomists Lazzarato) have called ‘immaterial labor.’ Reproductive labor, according to second-wave feminists, fell out of economic accounts of what was considered valuable work, precisely because it was ‘unwaged.’ However, the history of women of color and working class women also reminds us that the reproductive labor of caring for and maintaining the body--work that includes food preparation, wet-nursing, babysitting work, and grooming work (styling hair, buffing nails)—while poorly remunerated, often devolves to low-wage racialized and immigrant workers.”

--Radhika Mehlotra

Radhika Mehlotra is a graduate student in the Luskin School of Public Policy and a graduate student researcher at CSW.


For more info on Candacy Taylor and her work, visit

For more info on the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, visit

For more info on this event, visit

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