Photographer Cam Kirk Launches Hip-Hop Photography Program, Shares Stories Behind His Favorite Shots
In hip-hop, you're only as good as your last song. The same can be said in the adjacent field of hip-hop photography, where you're only as good as your last shot. Atlanta-based shutterbug Cam Kirk has made it his personal brand and business to always up the ante. The young visionary grew up in PG County, Md. but moved to the ATL for his college years, where he quickly learned to follow his passion for visuals.
Anyone who's got their pulse on Atlanta hip-hop can recognize Cam Kirk's work, who's known as the eye of his city. Cam has documented Southern stars like Gucci Mane, Future, Migos, Young Thug and more during all different stages of their career. In an effort to set himself apart from other photographers and immortalize Big Guwop in 2015, Cam set up an interactive photo exhibit, dubbed a "church-turned-trap house" in East Atlanta. In 2016, he went even bigger and started a campaign to show love to up-and-coming Atlanta acts. Kirk has put up billboards all around the city, shining a spotlight on Bankroll Fresh, 6LACK and Trouble so far.
Now, with his own Cam Kirk Studios officially open for business, Kirk's next move is to pay it forward. The 28-year-old has launched his first photography summer program called Collective Gallery to teach aspiring photographers to not only hone their eye, but find their angle in the business.
"Collective Gallery was actually an idea I had for a minute now just by working in the industry and meeting so many photographers and getting to know my peers," Kirk tells XXL when he stopped by the New York office. "I just kind of had this notion like, ‘Why are we competing so much when we could be joining together?’ I feel like photography in hip-hop, in my opinion, is something very new. It’s new to be respected for this. A lot of rappers, they’ve had videographers, but in terms of having the day-to-day or putting an emphasis on photography, it’s new.
"Instagram has been a major factor in making artists realize that it’s important for them to get a day-to-day photographer as much as it is to shoot my music video. So there's a lot more photographers popping up, and popping up young, to fill that demand."
Five students will participate in the inaugural program running from June to August out of Kirk's studio in Atlanta. Requirements to participate in the program included a submitted resume, proof of a high school diploma, willingness to travel to Cam's studio three days a week for the seven-week period. Cam plans to base the curriculum around the skills it took for him to get where he's at today. He'll even provide his class with their own cameras.
"When I first started photography in hip-hop, it wasn’t even a real career path," explains Kirk. "So I had people I idolized like Jonathan Mannion and Zach Wolfe who were doing it, but it wasn’t like there was a direct blueprint on how to do it. I feel like in order for us to sustain this and make people want to wake up and grow up and want to do it, we gotta lay out the blueprints and the guidelines of how to maneuver and plan to do this. That’s the main focus of Collective Gallery. I’m using my following and following of others to really come together and nurture the next generation of photographers who want to basically follow in our footsteps."
While Cam trains his newest crop of rap snappers, the photographer also shares some exclusive pics from his own portfolio with XXL. Some photos are outtakes from his Atlanta billboard series while others are never-been-seen shots from his personal collection. Check out these exclusive pics shot by Cam Kirk below, along with the stories of how they came together straight from the main himself.
Here Are the Stories Behind Cam Kirk's Hip-Hop Photos