A Hot Minute With Cam Kirk, the Eye of Young Atlanta
ATL got an artistic upgrade when Cam Kirk landed there in 2007—it was there that the photographer took his medium to the next level, and the city’s residents have reaped the benefits of his talent firsthand ever since…most recently with a continuing series of billboards that bring raw imagery of hip hop’s best straight to the people. Last week, Cam touched down in Miami for the Art Basel 1800 Tequila x Billboard event, where he exhibited alongside fellow photographers Gunner Stahl and PLACES+FACES, and now, we’re taking a post-Basel hot minute to dive into the artist’s head. Read on below to find out what’s up with the Eye of Young Atlanta.
We’re stoked for your exhibition. How did it all come together?
Honestly, it’s just like a family affair, it’s one of the most organic events I’ve ever done in my life. It actually came together when me and my friends were just talking about how we can have an impact on Art Basel, and I’m blessed to have friends like that, who are behind the scenes at this event, who coordinated all the pieces together, and I was able to show my work with some great friends who are great peers of mine.
How has your work evolved since you started shooting?
It’s evolved in a number of ways—when I first started shooting, and first started working with the camera, it was actually more on the video side. I actually used to hate photography—never thought I could catch the moment. I thought like, “Man, video is so easy I can just record, but the photos I never could get it right.” It just took more practice, more time, just learning and studying the craft, and over time I began to work with more artists who have given me more time to learn on the fly.
I’ve only been shooting for about three and half years, and I’ve been able to kind of just figure things out. I’m thankful to have mentors. My dad is a photographer, and he’s shown me different ropes and different tricks and things to look out for, and over time I’ve kind of evolved from this guy who kind of just shoots on the fly with an artist in certain environments like shows and stage, up to this day now, where I have my own studio, I shoot with lights and strobes, and I do all types of creative projects and album covers, things of that nature. So it’s kind of evolved from more of a day-to-day to this is a photographer who’s shooting my album cover, or shooting for magazine cover.
You’re known as the Eye of Young Atlanta; can you talk about your role in documenting the city’s hip-hop scene?
Honestly I’ve just been blessed to kind of come up with so many people. When I first started my career, I started working with this artist by the name of Young Scooter, who was this big bubbling artist. I kind of got with him very early, and from there he kind of moved me throughout the whole industry. I met so many people by working with him, and I was able to meet artists like Young Thug, and Young Dolph, and Gucci Mane, and so many people working with him. And from there, when he got incarcerated for some time, I linked up with Metro Boomin. At that time, me and Metro were kind of like just getting our feet wet in the industry, really starting to make a name for ourselves and from there our collaborations together brought us to working with Young Thug at the very beginning of his career. And where Metro was, I was kind of there so I was able to work with Young Thug from the beginning, like before Danny Glover.
What’s the best part about capturing these artists? Anything surprising about capturing moments with these people, especially when you’re friends with them?
I think the best perk of it is the access, like being around certain environments that other people dream about and go crazy about. It’s crazy sometimes, I travel a lot with artists, and just seeing fans reactions in airports and shows and stuff, it’s just something I have to train myself not to take for granted. To be able to be a part of history and be a part of something that people dedicate their lives to and people dedicate their lives to following, it’s something that I definitely don’t take for granted. I’m very grateful for it and I think that that’s some of the best parts of my job, just to be there when some of these moments happen, and you see it behind the scenes and first hand, and the moment and stories I’ll be able to tell my kids—it’s just a dope thing. That’s what I’m most grateful for about my job.
What kind of impact do you hope your work has on other people?
I just hope at some point down the line that people can actually take these photos and feel the emotion and the real moments in them, and at some point maybe 20 years down the line, people can still look at these photos and it’ll take them to a moment. And what I try to create with most artists I work with is to make that one distinguishable image that people think of when they think of that artist. I’ve been able to do that with certain artists—catching them at the beginning, I love catching them at the beginning…I worked with Rae Sremmurd on their first ever photo shoot, I worked with 21 Savage on his first ever photoshoot, Metro Boomin very early, Young Thug very early…one of those things I just try to keep going and doing.
What’s next for you?
I’m continuing with my billboard campaign. We’re in Atlanta, and I’ve put up about four or five different billboards around the city as an art exhibit that I’m doing. I took the art out of the typical gallery space and brought it directly to the people and the streets on billboards, and I’ve been able to do that featuring Lil Yachty, Migos which we just did in Miami, Metro Boomin, 21 Savage…that’s something I’m going to keep doing. I’m just trying to give back to Atlanta; I’m so thankful for Atlanta and what they’ve done for my life and my career. I feel like it’s something I just want to make as a statement. At the same time what I’m doing with my studio, Cam Kirk Studios, is we hope to make a lasting impression and lasting impact on the community, the creative community in Atlanta and just the culture. I want to actually transition it into a community center, a place where young kids and people interested in photography can come in and work, practice and learn and hone their craft, and just hopefully it can be something that’ll add to the creative scene and creative world in general for the next years to come.
Image courtesy of Cole Giordano
Stay tuned to Milk for more highlights from Art Basel 2K16.