Cara Ober: Your stuff is everywhere right now.
Schaun Champion: It’s kind of surreal. I have been finding my work popping up in places I wasn’t commissioned for, too. Work from one editorial will be featured in a completely different article. It’s wild. I have to thank my community for always sharing and getting my work seen by others. It has been fascinating to see some of my images being shared by people from all over the world. I just finished my first international commission for the magazine Rouleur in London. It’s long-form journalism and covers cycling and the Tour de France. I did the shoot for them here and it’s been interesting to see the impact around that. In my work life, I have bounced between Baltimore, Brooklyn, and London for a few years now.
What changed most recently for you?
I have been shooting around Baltimore for years. However, I have always been introverted, so I wasn’t putting myself out there that much in the past. In 2018 I decided it was okay to peek out of my shell and start sharing my work more. I started making sure that I posted more on Instagram and maintained a level of consistency. And then, in 2019, it started rocking and rolling, mostly from word of mouth.
At the end of last year, I got a call from Bradford Young’s wife, Stephanie Etienne, who I admire so much. It was Christmas Eve and I decided to go ahead and work. I went to their home and we had this really lovely four-hour shoot and it was amazing. From then on, something felt different and it’s been a roller coaster ever since.
Where are you from originally? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Columbia, MD, and I have been in Baltimore since the ‘90s. I went to middle school and high school in the county. I graduated from Milford Mill and then went on to Morgan State University, where I was a music major. I was there for music education and I play flute, piccolo, trombone, and saxophone. After college, I taught art and music to elementary and Pre-K students for a while. I had planned to teach older kids, but this age allowed me to have creativity in my classroom, and I needed that space to be creative.
When did you move from music to photography?
I bounced between music and visual art for my whole life. My father gave me a point-and-shoot camera with the flashcube on top when I was a kid, and I knew then that I wanted to grow up to be like the photographers you see in movies, traveling, enjoying life, wearing an ascot [Laughs]. I knew that I would take pictures of my family all the time: my dog, my cousin—who is my best friend—and my little brother. My cousin still uses the portrait, which is the first picture I ever took of her. I still have it in my room in a frame.
I got this drive from my mom. She has always considered herself the family historian, which is now my job, too. It was always her dream to be a photographer and travel the world. My mom had so many boxes of photos and albums and she documented everything. She likes to write more now, but she is definitely a photographer and has gotten back into it now that she has been watching me.
Where does your aesthetic come from? It’s both classic and modern and feels cinematic, very film-based.
I’m inspired by film [cinema] and I have always had this vintage approach to the way that I see things, but I started noting that even though I noticed those muted colors, I wanted to make them feel more brand new. I watch a lot of classic movies, so my eye really appreciates the muted colors that aren’t so saturated and vibrant. And the style, I just look at that and I wish that I was there, so that I could capture things the way they were then. I started going through older images [of mine] that I thought were flat and started re-editing them and doing some color corrections and seeing what I could do to maintain melanin in the skin but also to keep that classic look and those colors while adding more color.
I kept practicing with older images and realized that this is what I like. This is what I wanted to see. And I stuck with it, and it has evolved. I appreciate the textures. The way that I approach shooting it, a lot of it is in-camera. I don’t do a lot of correcting later on.
Do you shoot with film cameras or digital? There is a surface texture in your work that gives it a sense of reality, of imperfection, which you don’t see in digital photography that tends to be so polished and almost devoid of texture.
I do both digital and film. I have about nine film cameras. Right now I’m shooting with a Leica R4, a Rolleiflex, and then I have a digital Canon 6D (named Alice [my “Looking Glass”]) and now a Canon R Mirrorless. I love the accidental effects you see in film, and I work with the imperfections in film. It’s a bit like life. Even with these different approaches, visually my process is the same. I can already see the way that I want it to look, that vintage kind of film look, so even if I shoot digitally it feels like film.