For over a century, memories and special moments have been captured through some form of photography. Becoming the storytellers of modern times, photographers have summed up some of the most breathtaking moments with just their camera, etching those instants in our historical timeline for future generations to see. Cameron Kirkland is the latest of these visual griots, taking us along with him down the stretch of I-78 to the bright lights, Southern twang, and gritty esthetic of Atlanta’s music culture.
With subjects like Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, Future, The Migos, and more, Kirk has managed to acquire a seasoned professional’s film reel in a short amount of time, as he’s shown in his first photography book, Yesterday’s Tomorrow. EBONY managed to sit with the Maryland-born, Atlanta-based photo visionary to learn how he’s trained his shooting eye for popular culture.
EBONY: When did you discover the art of photography?
Cam Kirk: Photography has been around me my entire life. My dad is a professional photographer. Growing up, I used to earn my allowance by helping my dad out with his different shoots from weddings, Marine Corps balls, to other special events. So in a way it’s been a part of my life without me even knowing or embracing it. I never discovered my actual passion for it until I bought my very first camera when I moved to Atlanta and began taking pictures of things that I actually enjoyed.
EBONY: How did going to Morehouse College and being in the Atlanta metro area shape your perspective on pop culture, more importantly music culture?
CK: Morehouse and Atlanta have completely changed my perspective on life as a whole, not only just my view on music culture. At Morehouse, I matured and became a man through living life on my own and away from family. Atlanta is so much different socially than growing up in the Maryland/DC Area. There is no music industry in Maryland; there really is no entertainment scene period there outside of local go-go bands. Growing up in Maryland the only celebrities we see are athletes.
Atlanta, on the other hand, is almost completely all about the music and entertainment industry. Living in Atlanta takes away that “star struck” feeling with celebrities because they come so frequent. Living in Atlanta established my passion for the music industry and culture because it’s so easily accessible. The biggest music artists out of Atlanta literally move around like everyday normal people. Living in Atlanta, it seems like the music industry is literally at your fingertips, so it makes it so easy for people to want to get into it.
EBONY: When did you realize that photography was going to be your profession and not just your hobby?
CK: In 2012, I realized photography and videography could really be a career path for me when I got the opportunity to work with some of my favorite music artists. I had just recently graduated from college, and I knew I did not want to work a regular corporate nine-to-five job, so I started putting my camera and my connections to work for me. The video that really popped things off for me was this “day in the life” documentary I did for Schoolboy Q in 2012 when he came to Atlanta for a show. I was a part of the team that booked him for his show in Atlanta, so I used that leverage to be able to produce a video of his time in Atlanta for him. His camp liked the video so much that it later turned into a continuous working relationship.
Literally the day after I got the opportunity to film for Schoolboy Q, I got hit up to film Estelle for her time in Atlanta as well. Working with her, I met Young Jeezy and got hired by him to film All Star Weekend 2012 with him. In the span of about two weeks, I went from never working with a celebrity to producing work for Schoolboy Q, Estelle, and Young Jeezy. It was then that I knew I could really have a career in photography.
EBONY: Describe your relationship, both creatively and personally, with (Producer) Metro Boomin.
CK: I met Metro Boomin through a mutual friend at Morehouse, B Wright. He was a freshman and I had just graduated. We also had a mutual Freebandz (Atlanta rapper Future’s entity) connection from him being signed to Future and me working with Future and Young Scooter on the video and photography side. We instantly clicked, as we would run into each other more and more. He respected my work and I respected his the same way. I took on the role of more of a big brother with him just helping him with whatever he needed personally or professionally.
We formed a professional partnership outside of our friendship as well. We set up a plan to infuse our careers and take the industry over in 2013. He would create the songs and I would create the marketing and content for the songs whether it be “webisodes” or full blown music videos like Young Thug’s “Some More” and “Blanguage”, The Migos “Ounces”, and Rich Homie Quan’s “Too Short” that we did together. It’s a pretty unconventional partnership, a producer and photographer, but it’s one that has worked tremendously for both of our careers. We creatively keep each other on point.
EBONY: Being from the DMV area and being based out of Atlanta now, do you feel you have a certain responsibility to document the DC music culture the same way you’ve done the Atlanta music scene?
CK: The DMV raised me, so I will always have a sense of loyalty and pride for that area. That’s what actually motivated me to want to work with Shy Glizzy coming out of DC. I do not feel pressured or a sense of responsibility to document DC, but I definitely will always show love to my hometown. Maybe one day down the line I will be able to go back home and work with more artists coming out of the area.
EBONY: What was your inspiration on creating Yesterday’s Tomorrow?
CK: The title is something that I have had for quite some time now, I just did not know exactly what it would be used for. I have been flirting with this idea for a photography book for a year or so now but the timing was never quite right until now. Originally I was designing a much larger coffee table print book entitled Home of the Brave, and that was a complete catalog of my photography work of all of the Atlanta artists I’ve had the privilege to work with from Gucci Mane, Jeezy, TI, Future and more. I didn’t feel like the time was right just yet for such a large project. I feel like I have a few more years of work to put in before the time is right for something like that.
So instead of working on a book that would be a complete catalog of my work, I thought of the idea sometime in late October 2014 to design a book consisting of my work from the past year. Last year was such a pivotal year for my career, and I wanted to open up about it. 2014 started so rocky for me that I actually contemplated quitting due to some adversity to begin the year that I was going through. Someone broke into my car and stole my computer and every hard drive I owned while I was celebrating New Year’s Eve. I entered 2014 with just my camera and my skill. I lost every video and every photo that I have ever taken in my life. This was the biggest test of my career, and thankfully I stayed strong and fought off all the negative thoughts of quitting. My career was so successful in 2014 that here I am, releasing an entire book solely on the work I created that year.
EBONY: How do you feel as a voyeur of the ever-popular Atlanta music culture, and to have your work shared around the world?
CK: It’s an amazing feeling to see people’s reception all around the world to my photography. It scares me sometimes to be honest, but at the same time, it keeps me inspired to keep creating. That’s why I love photography. I’m creating art that’s impacting the world and that will last forever in the galleries of history. I love the fact that my work offers another perspective into the lives of the music artists that I work with through photography. 95% of my photography is candid moments in the lives of these artists, in an attempt to give a look into who these artists on a more personal level.
EBONY: What is a creative goal that you set for yourself that you look forward to reach this year?
CK: The release of this book was definitely a creative goal of mine. Moving forward into 2015, I want to explore more merchandising and art releases of my photography. I want to do more photography work with magazines and media outlets this year. I hope to land more magazine placements and maybe even a cover shoot this year.
EBONY: As a young Black man creating a profession for yourself, what advice would you give the young photographer looking up to you as an inspiration?
CK: The best advice I can give for other young photographers is to work hard and be consistent. It’s so many photographers today that it is also important to find and create a unique style with your work, to find an untapped niche to explore. And whether it’s working in the music industry, or any industry for that matter, it’s important to establish and maintain good relationships.
For more on Cam’s work and to purchase Yesterday’s Tomorrow, you can visit his site, TheCamKirk.com.
Cory Townes was born and raised in Philadelphia, and currently lives in Brooklyn. A devout Philly sports fan, Townes is the Social Media Manager for EBONY.com. When he’s not cheering for his Philadelphia Eagles or remembering the wonders of an authentic Cheesesteak, you can reach him on Twitter @CoryTownes.