His influence—particularly as an A&R—has helped launch the careers of some of the brightest names in hip-hop today, from Waka Flocka Flame to Young Thug to Yo Gotti and Nicki Minaj. But it's the other side of Gucci Mane, the thoughtful, polite man who has helped cultivate careers and nourish the artistic and creative scene of his hometown, that Kirk hopes to display with his installation this weekend.
But Cam Kirk himself is not just Gucci Mane's photographer; his work alongside Young Scooter is extensive and he recently was the tour photographer for Young Thug and Travi$ Scott's Rodeo Tour earlier this year. Ahead of the installation's premiere this weekend in Atlanta, XXL spoke to Cam Kirk about his career, his experiences documenting Gucci Mane and what he wants to really get across with this new photo exhibit. Free Gucci! —Dan Rys
Cam Kirk: That was amazing, man, that was a crazy experience. Really life-changing. I've always traveled with different artists but I've never traveled with an artist of that magnitude on a consistent basis, like on a tour. I used to travel with Young Scooter and we'd do spot dates and pop up in a city here and there but just to be on the road for 30 days straight was pretty crazy. I got to go to a lot of cities and states I'd never been at and it really opened my eyes to the power of my brand; I was going places I'd never been before and people would recognize me. [Laughs] It made me feel like, man, I gotta do something big when I get off this tour.
I've been sitting on these Gucci pictures actually for a long time, obviously, since he's been in jail for almost two years now. These are a lot of photos that I took of him when I first started shooting, so this is really early work for my career. I've been sitting on these photos because I knew they had such power and I didn't want to just drop them on the internet or sporadically, I was waiting for the right moment where I could drop these and they'd get the right look. So when I got off the Rodeo Tour, I was like, Man, I think the timing is right for this and to celebrate the legacy of Gucci Mane and the impact he's had on my career and others' alike. So I decided to do a gallery.
Originally I was gonna do just a regular gallery at an art space and I was talking it over with a few of my friends and the idea just kinda hit me: I need to go there, I need to do something different. So I decided to use a trap house in East Atlanta instead of using a typical gallery. I wanted to bring people into the vibe or the fantasy of what they think Gucci Mane is. It's the whole atmosphere, and that's gonna even bring the photos to life and everything that's going on with it. So I had a trap house in East Atlanta and LRG and 20Grand Vodka are on board to see the vision and get behind it.
Actually, the week before I was gonna announce it, the trap house I was gonna use got raided by the police, which is a hassle and a headache. [Laughs] But that's how authentic I was going with it; it was going to be a real trap house. I wound up having to find a new venue, which I thank God happened because I was able to find an abandoned church that's been converted into a trap house. So it has both elements of the Trap God; both elements of that super Gucci, the Trap God, what you would think you would see. So you walk in and it's a big open space, it has pews, pianos, organ players, an altar, Pastor's chairs, everything. And at the same time you go through one door and it's like a trap house; a kitchen, security cameras on the wall, old stoves and everything. So it's like the best of both worlds.
So now I'm really able to take the vision to the next level with the venue. It's gonna be crazy, man. It's gonna be so much more than just the photos, it's gonna be like an installation feel. There's gonna be actors in there that play certain roles, so when you walk in you should feel like you're at a trap house. I don't want it to feel like a bougie art gallery; you should feel like, "What's goin' on? Is this real?" And I think that the vibe is gonna give that off. And I think that's gonna bring the pictures more to life.
I would say that professionally, when I could really call myself a photographer, was 2012. I had just graduated from college so I didn't have a job at the time and that's when I decided to take it on full-fledged. 2012 was when I first started working with artists in the music industry. The first video that I did that got me any attention was ScHoolboy Q. I did a Day In The Life of ScHoolboy Q when he came to Atlanta; he did a charity show and I followed him from when he got in to the day he left. And it was like a documentary-style video. That was the first video that got me on blogs, got me anywhere.
That's what sparked the career. When I was shooting for ScHoolboy Q I got connected to Estelle randomly and literally the next day I was doing the same thing for Estelle. And on the last day she was like, "Come to the studio, get shots at the studio." I get to the studio and Young Jeezy is there. He's like, "Yo, come with me next weekend, come with me out of town," so the next weekend I was at All-Star Weekend with Jeezy. It just snowballed. Once I had ScHoolboy Q, Estelle and Jeezy under my belt in terms of my calling card, I was able to get a lot more work.
I started going to all the concerts in Atlanta and filming them and then dropping them the next day. So at first it was mainly video stuff, and I got a lot of blog notoriety off that. And after that I got connected with Future, who connected me with Scooter. Then I rolled with Scooter for about a year and a half, through his whole run from "Colombia" until the end. And with Scooter is how I started developing my photography skills, and that's how I got connected with Gucci Mane.
I was working with Scooter when he transitioned to 1017 from Freebandz, and that's how I got connected with Gucci. Then through him it was Thug early on, Young Dolph, all of them were through Gucci.
What was your first interaction with Gucci Mane like?
Out of all the rappers I've worked with, Gucci was the first rapper to treat me with enough respect to remember my name. Literally as simple as that. We were on the way to Miami for the "Colombia" music video shoot and we rode in Gucci's tour bus; that was when Trap God was coming out. So we were listening to all the songs from that and Gucci's just rappin', rappin'. And I remember he wanted me to pass him something or turn something up—at this point I'm star struck, quiet on the bus—and he's like, "Yo Cam! Cam! Pass me that!" And I'm like, "Damn! This nigga Gucci know my name!" With so many other rappers it's, "Yo, camera man!" He was the the first one to actually call me by my name. Off that alone I felt like he had respect for me as a person.
These photos are gonna range from the Trap God era all the way until his incarceration. I wasn't his cameraman—so it's not like every single day I was with Gucci—but through Scooter I was with him a lot. In the studio, video sets, traveling out of town, he came on the road with us a few times. And then through Metro Boomin I was around him a lot when he was on house arrest and Scooter was in jail. During that time me and Metro was hangin' with him tough—we watched the NBA Finals, no one in the studio but me, Metro and Gucci—and I really got to hang with him then. In the show you'll see photos from that experience, when I first met him, shows we did together. And then just regular life, Gucci in the back of the car in Miami, blowing weed. Just different phases of him. Even to him training, he was supposed to fight The Game in a charity boxing match, and that's where the Gucci Balboa thing came from. He was dead serious about training for that. [Laughs] I remember me and Scooter came off the road and we came in at 7 in the morning—we always met up at Gucci's studio—and Gucci's in there, shirt off with boxing gloves just goin' in with the trainer.
Just different vibes. Him having fun, him serious in the studio, training to box. There's a lot of different vibes you'll get out of the photos. And then there are still the iconic shots; the Trap House 3 cover that I shot, black and white with him and the guns, that's the iconic photo of him that I got. You see stuff that give you that iconic feel of what people think Gucci is and then some of the other pictures will be a little softer, reflective side. To fill out the other side, the side I got to know.
What is it about Gucci Mane that draws people to him?
He plays by his own rules, mainly. One thing about Gucci: he never had a problem with putting people on or being open and being real, no matter who they are. That's what drew me to him early, the respect that he has for other people's artistry. And now the world is really getting to see it, with the Young Thug's, PeeWee LongWay's, the Young Dolph's that are poppin' now. I found a picture of him and Yung Gleesh in the studio like three years ago. He has this vision for who's next, and now these artists are the "it" artists. They all came from him and he never tried to outshine or overshadow them. He let them record as much as they wanted. You listen to early 1017 Thug, you don't hear Gucci on every song, he's only on like two. He shot their videos, paid for their videos, gave them chains. He's always been real with everybody.
I think now that he's locked up, of course, it's helping his iconic status. People can't see him every day, they're appreciating him more. But I think it's just the realness in him. For me, he's always been real with how he feels, he never followed protocols or politics; if he's not messin' with something, he's not messin' with it. And it just is what it is. I think you have to respect that. And you have to respect anyone who's been in the game as long as he has, with his business sense and eye for talent. All these people who were around him are now larger than life. Nicki Minaj, the Yo Gotti's, people that he had early. He really is a trap god, because everybody in this scene, from producers, me, my whole candid style of photography, everybody owes something.
It's so many different sides to him. I've never seen that other side that people try to portray or use against him. I've only seen that guy who was nice, polite, respectful of my craft. And I hope that through these images people get to see that side, too.
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