Shaughn Cooper, the 22-year old celebrity photographer, is on fire. A native of Clinton, Maryland, Shaughn’s affection for photography was seeded from his truest inspiration — his family and his passion for rap.

At a young age, Shaughn was inspired by the memories captured in his mother and father’s photo albums. He noticed that in his generation no one was taking pictures on cameras or printing photos out, it was all on the phone. After he tried to print pictures from an iPhone, he realized that the quality of a cell-phone camera wouldn’t cut it, so he got his parents to buy him a camera. 

Rap also drew Shaughn to photography. Growing up, rap was Shaughn’s escape. He would listen to rap and blog. On Tumblr, he would see pictures of rappers, quickly realizing he really couldn’t rap, he thought “I could possibly take photos.”

By the age of 12, he was already a dedicated student to the craft, with a robust musical palate that ranged anywhere from Eminem to Queen or Outkast to Nirvana. His initial artistic inspirations surfaced when he discovered photographers Chi Modu and Jonathan Mannion, who have documented hip-hop greats to include Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan, DMX, Nas, and more. 

“They basically documented New York rap before it was really big,” said Shaughn.

Music is a powerful form of art because it blurs the lines between experiences, perception, and reality. As a creative, Shaughn aims to give another perspective of how people see the world.

“I don’t even consider myself just a photographer, I’m so much more than that.”

When Shaughn became interested in photography, many people doubted whether it was a professional pathway worth pursuit. Among his family and friends, there really weren’t examples of successful artists or entrepreneurs. The only narrative they knew was the struggling artist or the artist that tragically suffers from drug addiction. This is where he learned two big lessons. “There really ain’t no blueprint for this, their way of thinking is outdated,” said Shaughn.

Growing up, Shaughn loved to draw, play sports, write poetry, code, and blog. When people asked him what he wanted to be, he’d say, “I want to design video games, or I want to be an astronaut.” Finally, one day he got to the point when he said, “I just want to be a photographer.” He was feeling uninspired in his second semester of college studying accounting and thought he could be gaining experience taking pictures somewhere instead. 

“You can be an accountant, you can be a lawyer, but you can be an artist full-time, too.” Shaughn realized.

Since starting his photography career, Shaughn has been committed to creating a blueprint for young aspiring artists and entrepreneurs. He emphasizes the importance of regularly connecting with mentors in their areas of interest. His goal is for young people to learn life-skills from local creatives and professionals across the DMV. This vision is now an initiative, in partnership with Man Up at Edgewood Commons, that launches in fall 2019.


The Blueprint

Step 1. Believe in Yourself – Understand your own potential. Get out of your own way.

“I understood that there is an oak tree inside of an acorn, A seed has the potential to start a whole forest.”

Step 2. Only Believe the Believers

Shaughn’s late mother would tell him, “Follow your heart and do what you want to do. It will make sense eventually.” He continues to carry those words of wisdom. Through photography, he feels his mother living through him.

Step 3. Read Powerful Books that Expand Your Mind

“I was lucky to read a lot of books in high school that elevated my state of mind,” he said. He credits Amazon for referring him to books by Paulo Coehlo, Napoleon Hill, Robert Green, and Ryan Holiday. Through literature he was able to mentally travel beyond Clinton, Md., and attract the life he visualized.

Step 4. Be Reflective and Completely Honest with Yourself

Not long ago, Shaughn noticed his photography skills at a standstill. He decided to stop working and spend time reflecting on his weaknesses. The process of reflection is essential to getting better, he believes, and helped remind him that teamwork is what makes the dream work. He began to lean into the support of his manager, focus on art and spend more time with his other interests.

Step 5. Build Your Team like the Avengers

Over the last few years, Shaughn realized he would need a team and decided to pursue the people he wanted to work with. “I’d take chemistry over talent any day.” said Shaughn. “Everyone can bring something to the table. I will be a subcontractor on a job, and I can subcontract you for a job. That’s just how it works. It shouldn’t be this thing like Shaughn is the leader or the boss. No, we are all leaders in a sense.”

Inspired by the Marvel franchise Avengers, he recognizes that “Everyone has their own timeline and their own villains that they deal with,” he continued. “They have their own story. That’s why when they come together, they’re a bigger threat.”

Currently, Shaughn is building out a national team to increase his capacity by subcontracting out-of-state work to photographers in that area.

Step 6. It’s All About Connections

Shaughn explains how his local DMV network has helped him over the years and has been key to getting new business. “The people I work with are my friends. It’s not hard to work with them. They connect me with people where there is a marketplace. I get a job in L.A. because my homie from D.C. is connecting me to that person with that job in L.A.”

“I’ve been working with many photographers in the DMV since about 2010. It’s just finally starting to come together. Luckily, I was there early on and captured a lot of moments. People see that so they think, let’s bring him in because he’s been around and he’s pretty good at taking photos,” he said.

Step 7. Have Purpose & Separate Yourself

“When I started in photography, my goal always was to inspire just one kid, that they can do photography or any type of art full-time. To show them they can do whatever they want full-time.” He believes he is a vessel sent here to inspire.

Step 8. Run Toward Your Fears

In early 2019 he was tapped to lead the photo team at Broccoli City. It was his first time leading such a large group of photographers and it was certainly out of his comfort zone. But, he knew it would be an opportunity to grow, so he took it.

“I figure if you mess up the first time, people will tell you what you did wrong, so you can learn from that and be better for the future.”

To learn more about Shaughn’s journey follow him on IG ©shaughncooper or online at www.shaughncoopercom.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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