Thoughtful, perceptive, and engaging. Talented, honest, a hopeless romantic. Super funny. Grant Legan is one of Matte Black’s favorite photographers for a myriad of reasons that we can’t even fit into this modest bio. He is the creator of all images featured in this month’s issue. A pioneer of the photographer/influencer scene (he’s shot countless images of celebrities around the globe), Grant’s unique eye and purposeful drive stands out amongst a crowd. Our interview with him is uplifting, insightful, and oddly calming. His opinions and creative motivations are simply beautiful - just like his work.

 SS // Hey Grant. Whatcha doing right now? (Like, literally right now.)


GL: Hi. Well right this second I am looking up flights to Marrakech and listening to classical music which is the best.  The sun just came out here in Los Angeles (I am here for a week for work and some fun.)  In life, I relocated to NYC this summer, and I am loving the chaos of it all.


A little birdy told me that you grew up in the small town of Batavia, Illinois. How do you think that impacted your creative pursuits, growing up? Or even, the creative perspective you have cultivated today?

GL: These facts are true. I guess I would have to say the slow pace of growing up in a small town taught me to appreciate the simple things in life. Beauty in simplicity. And I think that helps keep me centered and balanced even through any sort of chaos that may come up. I do love chaos and high intensity, constant motion -- its exhilarating. But I have learned to appreciate quiet, stillness, and allowing my brain to just be. My childhood was sort of like this anyway, I come from a relatively large family, so family gathering’s were chaos. My parents divorced when I was 2, so I learned independence at a very young age and the importance of keeping myself busy with my own imagination when I was bored.

What is the most creatively inspiring region of the world you’ve ever come across and why?

GL: Hmm, obviously a difficult question. So many places have inspired me at different times of my life. About 2 years ago I went to Japan and spent about 9 days alone. This trip really allowed me to sit with my own goals and thoughts, and digest where I was at in life. On top of that, it was so quiet and respectful everywhere I went. It really taught me to appreciate polite mannerisms. I spent about a week in Kyoto, riding a bike around, finding myself in temples, museums and little bookshops. Utilizing public transportation from place to place I felt really at peace. I have an obsession with european architecture and brutalism, plus any sort of wabi-sabi type space. Traveling to small towns around Europe is always a blissful exploration.


Do you have a rule when it comes to work/life balance? This must be hard when you can essentially take your work with you anywhere…


GL: Yes, stillness. Sitting still, being quiet and allowing myself to feel grateful for the present. To really feel it deep in my bones. This has been challenging to adapt consistently, but important to find joy in little moments and surrounding myself with others who experience joy in the same way. For me it works best when I remove technology and go for a walk, sit in a park, wander through a book store and just exist silently.  I love a window seat for this reason, in any mode of transportation, watching the world go by and sitting with my thoughts has increasingly become one of my favorite activities. I think this is like my personal sanctuary, the window of a plane or train is where I most often feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the beauty I have experienced in my life. It often times brings me to tears just thinking about all the people I have in my life; my friends and my family mean so much to me and have really encouraged and inspired who I am today. Such a blessing.

“My thoughts on today's culture of this "MODERN DAY INFLUENCER" is WHAT are we influencing?


Have you ever felt detached from what you were creating? If so, how did you recognize this in the first place and hit refresh?

GL: I have, I get overwhelmed and frustrated that what I am creating isn’t good enough. And this does happen often. But tomorrow is a new day, and today is for learning. So I remind myself that I am doing my best and I will keep growing creatively.  Knowing that there is always room for improvement, this is my biggest motivator. Allowing myself to be in the presence of the the world around me. Appreciating nature -- the original artist/designer. Going for a walk, sitting in a public place and observing others lives go by. I enjoy being an observer, I love people and I think the human mind is so interesting, sometimes just going for a walk outside is all I need to hit the reset button. It allows my mind to slow and refocus.

Ok, so ANOTHER little birdy told me that you’re working on a photo book… Soon-to-be-named “Leo.” Tell us all about it. What sparked you to cook this up?

GL: Yes, won’t say too much about this topic except to keep your eyes out for it. :) The motivator for working on something offline is just that, to focus on what is immediately surrounding me, to be inspired again by people and to take the time to shoot for me rather than shooting for “likes”. The internet is an incredible tool, but has caused us to lose focus on what is most important to us and move too quickly, but working on this book has allowed me to slow down and put time and thought back into my work.


When will the Shape/Shift Report be talking about “Leo” again?

GL: The tentative plan is end of next year (2019) But the honest answer is when it’s ready :)

How do you find ways to be creatively challenged as a photographer? What challenges you?

GL: Knowing that I am capable of being better than yesterday. Knowing I am always evolving as an artist. As I grow and experience more of this life, my work will evolve with me.

What are your thoughts on “Influencer” culture today? How is it impacting photography?

GL: My thoughts on today's culture of this modern day influencer is *WHAT are we influencing?* As a culture. I think this is a very important question that we all need to be asking ourselves. The values system today is hyper-focused on being famous or rich, and that has created this new set of values that is causing a great deal of unhappiness throughout our generation.

I think the photography industry has changed just as much as every other creative industry. Where talent and years of hard work discovering your craft was the criteria for talent, there has been a shift to less importance on hard work and instead everyone is looking to become an overnight success. A talented model, photographer, illustrator, writer, painter, [etc.] all used to become successful because they were driven by passion and oftentimes removed from the public eye in order to create good work and spend time with their craft. Now there is an overarching pressure to exist online constantly, to be seen, and gain followers in order to get more work and be valid. It’s counterintuitive. We need to be encouraging more silence and time alone to exist and grow and be nourished properly, but we are living in an age where quantity > quality and I think every creative type person who cares deeply about creating good work is really feeling crushed by this.


What is the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way, thus far?

To be yourself. We cannot go around believing we have to become anything else. I have learned that surrounding yourself with people who inspire you but also support you is the best way to feel confident and connected to yourself.  We all deserve this. Be honest; with yourself and with others. Be kind to yourself and those around you. We are all fighting our own battles, and if you get the chance to interact, work and be around kind and honest individuals, you will grow in ways you didn’t even think were possible. Trust is the way in which we feel a freedom to make beautiful things.

What/who do you want to influence? Have your legacy be?
I want to influence the scared but talented artist to become something great. I want the weak to become strong, to believe in what they possess. I want to influence passion, love, and kindness. I know how it feels to have someone believe in you and feel part of a community that wants you to succeed, to have someone love you so deeply, and to be driven mad by passion. I want others to feel that way too.

How can photography influence society? How can the photographer play a role in this?
Images speak truth, or they have the ability to. A photographers duty is to show their own perspective of life in a way many aren’t able to see. I believe photography can be a vessel to tell a story and put feelings into a visual. Photography is like a window into another world, showing us how beautiful and poetic the world can be, for there is beauty in truth.  

Dream achievement?

GL: My dream achievement is to create a body of work over my lifetime that speaks to people, that makes them feel something deeply.

Ralph-21 (1).jpg

What do you think is the purpose of life?

GL: Love -- I may be a hopeless romantic but I believe love is so important and beautiful. To see and love yourself, and stand confidently in your own skin knowing what you possess is so important, just as well to see another person exude the same energy and confidence is everything. This brings me joy and is enchanting. To love yourself and to love others -- to see another person as they are and know they are beautiful, and to be seen as you are and feel the same. There is nothing so beautiful.


Final words. Please enlighten our readers.... What’s your greatest advice?

GL: If given the option to choose between being kind and being right, choose kind.




From the actual mouths of actual Influencers themselves: Read this article to figure out what faux-pas you can (and probably should) avoid when trying to befriend the next influencer you want to promote your brand, online.




When I started SWIM in 2015, there were limited resources to put towards influencer marketing on social media. We work with awesome brands and it never felt right to be transactional and pay influencers for promotion. Rather, we thought about how we could develop a mutually beneficial relationship with influencers that share the same value in the brand.




Not to be all “Jerry Seinfeld Live at The Laugh Factory” with this transition, but: what’s with Instagram aesthetics, eh? Can we even break down and rank each different one, though, am I right? I mean, come on, let’s be real, does your choice in Instagram aesthetic show what type of person you are, huh?  




The data to support these recent headlines is actually quite interesting.


A split divide amongst the general public is apparent (to me): Those who actually may be more informed and those who think “they’re listening….”

And no – I’m not talking about anything politically inclined. I’m talking about curated Instagram ads.



033 - are you ready for social?

You've claimed the Instagram handle, but when is the right time to go live with the first post? Listen in to our conversation with Elena Hansen, Founder of social media marketing agency SWIM Social, for her five factors that show if your brand is ready (or not) for social media marketing.

This podcast was first published in May 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 12.40.48 PM.png