Documenting Human Connection
Shaun James Grant is one of those artists’ whose career span is impressively jaw-dropping but they don’t quite seem to notice it. A quick look at his portfolio reveals a string of brands and stars gracing his lens — whether it’s for still or moving frames.
He has worked with NFL, Nike, Superdry and i-D among others, while his films and music promos for artists such as Jorja Smith and Maverick Sabre stand out for the intimacy as well as the sensitive subjects they touch, respectively.
With a distinct style infused with grainy shots and yellow undertones, Shaun aims to capture the emotion and the aura of his subjects and he sure succeeds in it. Here’s a quick glimpse onto his world and thoughts.
Fabrik: Hello Shaun and thank you for your time! It’s always nice seeing artists evolving and getting deeper into creative disciplines. While we’ve met you as a photographer, lately, you have been focusing on directorial work and moving image. Any reasons on what prompted the change in direction?
Shaun James Grant: “I was actually directing before I picked up a stills camera. I think my stills work in time just made me a better director. In the sense that film photography forces you to be decisive and forward thinking in what you want to achieve. It focused my brain I would say.”
Fabrik: When you’re working as a director is there anything specific you look for in scripts or treatments?
Shaun James Grant: “I write all my own work.”
Fabrik: On ‘Her Grace’ by Maverick Sabre, you direct a haunting story of a young woman who is also the victim of domestic abuse. How do you approach such sensitive subjects?
Shaun James Grant: “With care. It’s tough because you can’t speak for everyone in these situations, nor would I want to. Everybody’s experience with emotional trauma and abuse is different. I found digging deep and recalling past experiences I’d encountered through family members really helped me channel the emotions I wanted to run through the film. It was also really important to treat everyone in the piece including the perpetrator as human beings, fallible individuals who whilst doing a morally reprehensible act came across tormented.
I think it’s important to represent people on film as multi dimensional individuals, as any dark acts are usually a result of a past experience.”
“I think my stills work in time just made me a better director. In the sense that film photography forces you to be decisive and forward thinking in what you want to achieve. It focused my brain I would say.”
Fabrik: Your latest work features strong female-led stories. Is the female gaze and point of view something you actively seek in a story?
Shaun James Grant: “No not really, it’s an interesting thought but I’ve never thought about it like that. I’ve always just looked for the story and human connection on an emotional level. I think any heavy female presence at this point is coincidental, although I will say I find female artist to be a bit more open about discussing their work on an emotional level. They tend to really focus on what the work means to them, which is great. Not that male artists don’t do it too, you just don’t encounter it often enough.
I think everyone should be doing that no matter what your identity. I believe one of the most powerful ways in which to hold attention is to relate to the audience and force them to feel something.”
Fabrik: Do you prefer studio or location shoots? And any reasons why that’s the case?
Shaun James Grant: “I love to be on location whenever I can, contending with the ever unpredictable real world. The real world somewhat forces you to react. I think it’s true to life and can often provoke more natural moments on screen. Also, it tends to be cheaper. That said as we all know you can create some really beautiful considered stuff in a studio!”
Fabrik: Have you ever had any difficulties pushing your creative and artistic approach to clients?
Shaun James Grant: “I try not push really. I believe it’s important to have conversations with artists and clients wherever possible and interpret what it is they want the piece of work to stand for. Once I believe I’ve grasped that, I look to mould it in a way that fits my creative taste.
I try to keep visual aspects in those conversations at a minimum and focus on what they want it to evoke. I think having your work represent something is really important, especially if you can be subtle with it and leave some space for interpretation. If no convo is possible I just write what I believe in, and if clients and artists don’t bite I’ve found that to be ok. I try not to attach myself into projects where I don’t feel like my artistic taste is felt.”
“I think any heavy female presence at this point is coincidental, although I will say I find female artist to be a bit more open about discussing their work on an emotional level.”
Fabrik: Is there any piece of work, be it a film, a song, a painting, that has left you with a lasting impression or any mentors you have encountered throughout the span of your career? Or any work you admire, but it’s not yours?
Shaun James Grant: “Countless, I’m inspired everyday from the creatives around me both old and new, I couldn’t isolate it down to a singular artists or piece. I try to find great art in whatever I can, wherever I can.
The good thing about art is that it’s not limited to what you see in a gallery, on pages, or on a screen. It can be the way in which someone is able to hold a conversation with you or the way a room is dressed inside your favourite pub, of the way in which someone pulls a pint. I think I need a beer…”
Fabrik: Can you tell us about what you’re working on right now and would like to share with the rest of us? Any related fields in the arts that you would like to explore or you are currently delving into?
Shaun James Grant: “Short term, all sorts. Long term I’m writing a 6 part TV show that begins to focus on experiences of my childhood but then goes off to explore a range of characters within a small northern community. I’m excited about that. If i’m shooting it in summer 2020 I’ll be happy.”
“I believe it’s important to have conversations with artists and clients wherever possible and interpret what it is they want the piece of work to stand for. Once I believe I’ve grasped that, I look to mould it in a way that fits my creative taste.”
Fabrik: Any advice you’d like to impart to those entering the field?
Shaun James Grant: “Believe in yourself”
Fabrik: Final question: What do you like most about Fabrik? What’s your favourite feature?
Shaun James Grant: “Everything about Fabrik is easy. It’s easy to set up, it’s easy on the eye, it’s easy to maintain. It brings no additional hassle to my life and lots of little benefits. What’s not to like!”
Shaun is using Fabrik’s Calico theme — a magazine format theme with unique homepage layouts and several project layout options geared towards presenting longer-form projects and blog posts. His site is split between moving image and stills portfolios and Shaun expertly uses different project layouts to get the most out of the different formats and aspect ratios of his visual content.
This article was first published on the Fabrik site as part of our Fabrik Heroes initiative. Shaun is a Fabrik Hero. Read more about the agencies, artists, designers, filmmakers and photographers using Fabrik.
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