I feel like I relate more to the terminology of ‘visual storyteller,’ capturing a cinematic moment in time. I guess I fall under the term ‘photographer,’ however, it feels like a career title more than a creative or artistic expression. – Grant Legan
Since featuring him in this PHLEARN tutorial, Grant Legan’s life has been filled with world travel, creative collaborations, and getting used to calling Los Angeles home. Additionally, his work for leading fashion brands like GQ, Michael Kors, J. Crew, and Coach have made him a fashionable forerunner among today’s most prolific traveling visual storytellers.
During our conversation, we talked about the differences between the creative community in LA and Chicago; how he hopes to evolve in his career; and where he’s sourcing fuel for inspiration these days.
What did getting started as a photographer look like for you when you were still in Chicago?
GL: I began working at a pizza place in the city, and shooting weddings and headshots on the side. I then got a job at Groupon – I was working mostly as a retoucher and designer. Spending my days working on the visuals that fill up the site/app. A couple days a month I would be out of the office working on set creating custom content for their stock library. This was a lot of fun with a great opportunity to learn about styling of all sorts, how to represent a product so it would sell.
After Groupon, I began working with a menswear company called Haberdash. I worked directly with the creative director who taught me the ropes of styling, and ecomm. I came in as the lead photographer and worked on everything – all the e-comm, editorials, campaigns. I had a studio in Chicago, so we worked out of there every day. I learned a lot in the realm of fashion. This is where I gained an understanding of how to work together with a brand, making sure their wants are met.
Chicago, for a creative, and for a photographer, had its limitations. I wasn’t finding the right opportunities to grow and evolve as an artist. And I wasn’t finding myself being challenged enough. And it wasn’t the kind of work I was excited about working on till I left, you know what they say; “location, location, location.”
After connecting with more people in the fashion industry, how did your career then segue into travel photography? And what was your approach to photography when you set out with bloggers and influencers Olivia Lopez and Laura Ellner?
GL: At that time, we got together the idea of combining forces, ‘Let’s create what we want to create. Let’s go where we want to go, and then pitch it to brands we admire.’ We went on to outline the types of places we wanted to shoot at, and then partnered with brands that had the aesthetic that fit this need. We became our own mini agency, we knew what brands wanted, and we knew that we wanted to travel and create imagery on the road. So we began our start in the content creation world, as Instagram was just becoming popular, there was really no pathway paved in this area.
It has spun itself into some of the work I still do, and has given me the teachings to put together and produce projects from start to finish. As those are the job roles we had to fill when we were just beginning.
When contacted about a commission, what compels you to say yes or no?
GL: If I am able to identify with the brand’s visual identity and aesthetic. Or if I see an opportunity for evolution in my own work. I am most compelled when I have creative freedom or am able to work together with them on the concept. I believe in trust above all else. Trust in a working relationship is so important, if I can’t trust them or they can’t trust me, it probably won’t be a successful body of work.
What were some adjustments you had to make when moving out to LA?
GL: Had to buy less coats every fall. Haha the weather was a great adjustment. I had more friends who were freelance and able to meet up and hang out and work during the weeks. Of course the driving is a disaster, but I remain without a car so I can always be a passenger 🙂
What’s a project that you’re excited to be working on right now?
GL: Creating a community for creatives to join forces and make beautiful work together. Also working on a photo book.
What, or who, are you finding fuel and inspiration from these days?
GL: Right now, I think it comes through architecture and furniture design, that has really sparked an interest as of late. I originally wanted to go into architecture when I graduated high school. I ended up switching at the last minute to a liberal arts school and getting my degree in graphic design. When I travel, I am invested in well designed spaces, and in general I enjoy being surrounded by beauty. Brutalism has been my recent obsession.
If you could master one skill you don’t have right now, what would it be?
GL: Teleportation. Or maybe the piano.
Are you ever traveling and not taking your camera? Going places just for you?
GL: I needed a really full reset last year. I always wanted to go to Japan. When I travel I usually go with people, or invite others. This time, I was more mindful of my own time, and my own brain. I was intentional with myself and I would head out into town or on tours with just a book and a notebook. Appreciating moments from a different sort of perspective. Would write about them, would listen to music and jot down notes about how I was feeling. It was a wonderful mental vacation. Ever since that trip, I’ve tried to build in more opportunities to arrive early on work trips so that I can be there and appreciate it and get in the mindset to explore a bit more. Humans need exploration, and discovery, and it’s a major part of what fuels me creatively as well.
What does it feel like when you’ve captured the moment you were looking for? Is it visceral? Do you know in the moment, or not until you’re editing later on?
GL: I feel a euphoria when trust forms between me and my subject. It’s like a high I cannot explain. I can just feel the human connection between two people, it’s like a sort of energy.
Looking back on your career, what steps do you see were most formative in you becoming more masterful in your craft?
GL: Understanding that as an artist/creative, it is really important to create work I am proud of. I think this also came from meeting and interacting with other artists as well, to see that we have a completely different perspective on the same moment in time. Learning what you like and don’t like is really important. Learning to say no, learning to take time for yourself, and most importantly finding a focus. I put so much pressure on myself to be so good at everything, but I wasn’t passionate about everything, so I had to refocus. It is also important to ask myself the question ‘why?’ as often as I can.
What do you do when you feel as if your creativity has hit a wall?
GL: Travel. I leave my routine, my comfort zone, and I try to discover something new. Force myself out of my comfort zone.
What do you foresee as the next evolution of your work?
GL: I see truth – I love the way you look at someone when you are in love, I look to capture those types of vulnerabilities even more.
If you could open a door and go anywhere, where would you go? Why?
GL: Outer space. Float through the galaxy and appreciate how small we really are.
You can view Grant’s portfolio here, and keep up with his beautifully captured travels here.
Dane Johnson was the former Editor of PHLEARN Magazine, where he helped creatives share their stories. Dane currently is the co-founder of Clementine Coffee Roasters and he accepts most assertions of his hipster-ness and millennialism without flinching.