ATLANTA UNTRAPPED: Cam Kirk captures hip-hop culture

The photographer reveals which rappers should be on your radar

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Photo credit: Cam Kirk
TRAP GOD: Cam Kirk's photo studio turns one in July.

Cam Kirk has captured some of the most notable photos of Atlanta rappers, including those shots of Gucci Mane holding a (fake) rifle from the Trap House III. Kirk was behind the “Trap God” exhibition showcasing never-before-seen photos of the rapper in an East Atlanta church converted to a mock trap house in 2015.

Kirk didn’t set out to become the go-to photographer for Atlanta rappers, but his work with Gucci Mane, Migos, Young Thug, and more has landed his work on billboards, in publications such as Rolling Stone, and in campaigns for Nike and Beats By Dre. A recent campaign with Saks Fifth Avenue and clothing designer G-Star RAW helped place Kirk’s photos of Gunna and Hoodrich Pablo Juan in Phipps Plaza for a month.

I recently caught up with the rapper to talk about the one-year anniversary of his Cam Kirk Photography Studios, his favorite up-and-coming Atlanta rappers, and more. 

On cultivating and fostering trust in Atlanta’s hip-hop community ...
I’m the guy who has been around since the beginning. I‘ve never been a photographer that pops up only when your name is buzzing. I seek out talent at an early age and early stages of people’s careers. I was there at the beginning of Young Scooter, Young Thug, Metro Boomin, Migos, and all of these people’s careers. They remember me as the same person and treating them the same way I do now as when they first started out.

On staying in the know with emerging artists…
When I approach a new artist I don’t look at them as “How much are you going to pay for this shoot?” I look at them purely off of energy. If they’re authentic, that makes me want to work with them. Not to mention, I’ve been blessed to be around artists like Metro Boomin who is always ahead of the curve in terms of artists with whom he works. He’s put me on to so many artists by us being friends and our relationships working together. Now that I have my own studio in Atlanta, I employ a lot of teenagers and young adults and we do a monthly playlist where they pick three songs a piece. That’s keeping me in the loop with so many artists that I’ve never heard of, just based off our playlist and conversations in the studio. It keeps me on my toes. It keeps me relevant and current.

On the next up-and-coming Atlanta artists …
There’s an artist by the name of Lil Gnar and he’s approaching the game a little differently. He’s much more in the pocket of the newer rappers who really understand how to use the internet and resources like that. I think he’s going to be a really big artist. There’s an artist by the name of Young Bandz. He’s connected now with Future’s label Freebandz. His movement is going to be really strong. He’s another guy who is approaching the game a little differently.  An artist by the name of Chip — I think he’s starting to really catch some momentum and waves with his music and really getting into a groove with what he has going on. With his songwriting capabilities and his melodies and consistencies, I think he’s going to be really big.

On diversity in Atlanta hip-hop …
I never felt like we had a lot of internet rappers. I always felt like we had a lot of street rappers. Not to say it’s one-dimensional, but it can be at times. It’s fun to see the next generation of artists coming out of Atlanta bring something different to the game and bring their take on fashion and the internet and social media. They’re following a little of what Lil Yachty laid out a platform for.

On being a music photographer … 
When I first started photography there weren’t too many living examples of somebody, especially somebody of color, who can say they made a career just shooting music artists. My parents would even tell me to get a real job. My dad has said that to me as recently as two years ago. I feel like I laid the foundation to show people that you can make a career out of things that you’re passionate about. You just have to be open and willing to go with the bumps and bruises that come with it.

On training the next generation of photographers …
I started a school in Atlanta where, for eight weeks, I had five students that worked with me three days a week in a real curriculum class setting. One of my students is now Young Jeezy’s photographer. It’s really dope to see the power of my work and how it can change the lives of others. 

On his favorite work to date …
I would say my favorite photo to date is probably the Migos raindrop photo that I did for Rolling Stone. Being able to catch that moment while “Bad & Boujee” was No. 1 on the charts. To be able to catch a photo of the Migos with real raindrops falling … It was just so relevant and so impactful to me. It’s one of those things that was iconic. Rolling Stone actually passed on that photo. It didn’t fit their editorial scheme. I remember thinking, it’s a blessing in disguise because now I get to be the one who delivers this photo. It worked in my favor.

Read Jewel Wicker’s Atlanta Untrapped column every week at www.creativeloafing.com/ATL-Untrapped.

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