When Schaël Marcéus stepped on the set of what would become Youth To The People’s first-ever billboard campaign, it was his first job as a signed model. Much of his work is as a photographer—focusing on portraiture and documentary with a touch of fashion. “I focus on themes of identity in relation to land and Black queerness at large,” he says. “I try to create the images my young self would’ve loved to see in the media.”
Tell us about your experience in the modeling industry.
Most of my on-set experience is behind the camera, in fact. I had stepped in front of it a few times here and there but Youth To The People was actually my very first gig as a signed model. I enjoy having a different perspective on-set. As a photographer I often have a lot on my mind during a shoot and a lot of things to organize. Modeling allows me to let go of that a little bit and let someone else take the wheel. I expect my subjects to trust me when they step in front of my lens so the least I can do is to offer the same to whoever I'm working with. I can’t ignore also the fact that I am a dark-skinned person, and with a wider build, so it’s great to see more inclusivity in the industry. A few years ago there weren't the same opportunities for someone like me. It’s always been an important part of my work.
What did it mean to you to see yourself on Youth To The People billboards across America and in Times Square? How did it feel?
Seeing myself on these massive billboards across America was quite surreal. As I mentioned before, this was my very first campaign. The whole thing came at an interesting time in my life to be quite honest. I had recently lost my grandmother and was feeling a little stuck creatively because of this. The billboards were kind of a reminder of the reason why I do the work I do. My goal is always to push forward the voices that are too often shut down and to bring the beauty I see in Blackness to the forefront. It felt like a great accomplishment not only for myself, but I hope someone else somewhere can see my big face and my pimple—the guest star of the shoot—and see that this is accessible to them. I know my young self would have wished to see more of this.
What does it mean to live your truth?
There’s this Janet Mock quote from a song by one of my favourite artists, Blood Orange, that goes as such: “People try to put us down by saying ‘She's doing the most,’ or ‘He's way too much’ But, like, why would we want to do the least?” And to me, living your truth is exactly that—being unapologetic, especially as Black people, and stepping into spaces where maybe people did not expect us to be, but [still] showing all the way up.