Baltimore is a vibrant, eclectic city. It’s a place that embraces outsider art as passionately as high art and produces an astonishing number of talented artists working in a variety of mediums. It’s a city that often feels like a small town, one where the role of artist and community leader often intersect.
Living this dual role is Baltimore photographer Schaun Champion. As Photography Instructor for A Looking Glass Project, Schaun guides the next generation of artists in digital and film photography while expanding her award-winning portfolio and featuring in solo and group exhibitions world-wide like “Black Gaze Matters”, “Thin Spaces: The Invisible Work of Black Women” and “A Black Bouquet” (to name a few).
I recently chatted with Schaun about her influences, her start in film photography, her goals, and the values she brings to her work and the classroom. Here’s what she had to say.
- Paige Davis
FPP: Schaun, thank you for taking the time to discuss your art with the Film Photography Project! My first introduction to your photography was through your mesmerizing series “Underneath it All” featuring Baltimore Yogi Michelle Stafford. I was immediately struck with your painterly use of light and thrilled to discover you are also a masterful film photographer. When did you first decide on photography as the medium for your art, and what prompted you to add film photography to your toolbox?
Schaun: Well, I started on film. The first camera ever put in my hands was a Canon film camera that my father owned. Then one day he got me a 110 camera of my own and since then I’ve been, in my own way, in love with image making. So, I suppose I’ve always had it in my toolbox. I’ve been photographing my family and friends since I was a little girl, but I decided to take it as a serious art practice is 2011. In 2015 I made the decision to pursue it full time. For a few years I leaned more into digital photography but in the past 3 or 4 years I decided to return to where it all started for me. I wanted to feel that rush of re-discovering what it is that I may have been focused on all those years ago through the viewfinder.
FPP: There’s a wonderful timeless and classic quality to many of your photos. I’m thinking particularly of the timeless look of “New Classics,” “Summer in Baltimore,” “Extra Extra” and “Bloom to Parish.” Does this tie into your intention to “use themes of diversity and nostalgia to illustrate the drama within the familiar” and would you elaborate on that for our readers?
Schaun: Yes, it does tie in. I’m heavily influenced by classic movies, old family photo albums, old music, and all things vintage. Those little things we sometimes forget to appreciate. That could be anything from clothing to a color palette. I find simple pleasure and gestures to be incredibly dramatic if you pay close enough attention to them. Sometimes these stories place black subjects in situations or settings that the rest of the world has yet to acknowledge that they’ve always existed in. I didn’t grow up seeing classic paintings that represented black subjects and at times my art is expressing my desire to see people who look like me and my family represented in such a way– being viewed and valued.
FPP: Regarding “Black Bouquet”, I’m interested in why you selected film as the medium for this series, your choice of camera, and any lighting “do’s” or “don’ts” you found useful in achieving this effect.
Schaun: I decided to incorporate film in my Black Bouquet series because I wanted the most honest representation of what was in front of me. I wanted to take my time and study my subject the way a painter might. That takes patience and connection. The only way to slow down that process is to give myself to film. Because of the limited exposures, I must be even more intentional about what I want to say with this image. How does it to feel? How does the subject feel in this very vulnerable moment that will be frozen? Are they excited? Nervous? Relaxed? Joyful? ….am I?
FPP: For this series and in general, do you prefer to develop your film photography at home, or send it out to a lab?
Schaun: I’m doing a bit of both, I’m taking the time to develop the ones I feel strongly about and sending the rest out to a lab because my schedule doesn’t have the capacity for my personal projects now. I’d love to have my dream darkroom one day. A sanctuary.
FPP: I was excited to hear you are heading into your third year as Photography Instructor for A Looking Glass Project, a youth program providing photography education in partnership with the Youth Arts Institute via the James E. Lewis Museum of Art in concert with Morgan State University’s Visual Arts Program, where you instruct your students in digital and film photography. Tell us a bit about this program in general, and how the students react to the planning and intentional aspects of shooting film.
Schaun: A Looking Glass Project was a program I developed to get the young people in my personal community interested in visual arts and travel. As we grew, I had the opportunity to partner with the Youth Arts Institute and the experience was exactly what I was looking for. Students enthusiastic about growing artistically but also personally. Most of them have returned each year or aged out and returned just to check on us and give thanks. I think that’s beautiful.
FPP: What do you hope they will take away from the course?
Schaun: I’d like for them to walk away with an added perspective, excitement about how they see the world, to acknowledge that their own perspective matters and experiment. I want them to be intentional and pay closer attention to the things around them as they add to our collective human experience archive. And of course, have fun doing it.
FPP: Let’s talk about your filmmaking. Are you shooting motion picture film, and are you currently working on any projects?
Schaun: I’ve worked on a few personal projects, but they aren’t ready to be released into the world yet. I’m incorporating some Agfa Super 8 footage and using Kodak 500T. I’m also experimenting with different looks. I’ve had the honor of working on some productions of different size and working alongside some of the best cinematographers and a beautiful community of filmmakers from all over the world.
FPP: Thanks so much for your time, Schaun! This is the spot where I ask you to shamelessly promote your current or upcoming projects, exhibitions, future plans or other items of interest. What should we keep an eye out for?
Schaun: I am working on a couple of books, and I’d love for everyone to be able to support it and get a copy of their own. I also have a couple of new projects I’m working on involving large format photography and an exhibition coming up next year with the NARS Foundation.
FPP: To find out more about Schaun’s current and upcoming projects visit her website Schaun Champion, follow her on Instagram @schaunchampion, tweet at her on or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Schaun Champion is an award-winning artist-photographer, filmmaker and instructor specializing in natural light portraiture, fine art and cultural documentary work. Her photographs can be found in private collections, galleries, and museums around the world. She currently lives in Baltimore, MD.