Cam Kirk on His Evolution From Lensman To Creative Entrepreneur

The Maryland native has a stunning portfolio of work with the likes of Migos, Travis Scott and Young Thug, and now he’s paying it forward as a founder and CEO.

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Cam Kirk’s original plan in life was to be a doctor. That’s the only reason why his parents even allowed him to move to Atlanta for college in the first place. But unbeknownst to the young Maryland native, his move to the A would instead provide a path and build a career that married his creative genes and passion for music.

Growing up the son of a photographer, Kirk’s first exposure to being a lensman was as an assistant to his father on shoot days. This opened up his eyes to the ins and outs of his father’s industry, and became a way for him to earn an allowance, but he never knew of any photographer that shot in the style of work that he does today. Photography remained a passion project for Kirk as he set off for school at Morehouse College, but there that he found a way to connect his artistic roots with his affinity for music and culture. He experimented with putting together a few events on campus, including a concert that featured a young Wiz Khalifa that became the catalyst for the purchase of his first ever camera. That Canon T2i remained untouched for the first six months, however, until a friend asked for some help in organizing a ScHoolboy Q show. He agreed — but only under the condition that he could photograph the TDE artist.

The success of that job with Q opened a multitude of opportunities for Kirk to work with Young Thug, Migos, Travis Scott, Future, Gucci Mane, Curren$y, fellow Morehouse alum Metro Boomin and others. He spent the next several years establishing himself as one of the music industry’s most credible photographers and videographers, while laying a foundation for the launch of numerous creative business entities. He started off with creative space Cam Kirk Studios (which is about to commemorate its seventh year in business this 2023), and followed it up with his Cam Kirk Foundation non-profit, the newly-launched educational streaming service CKS and his groundbreaking creative label Collective Gallery, which was born from his experience in meeting photographers who were struggling to make a living from their craft. The evolution of Kirk’s career from lensman to founder and CEO also ushered him into the role of a leader; he utilized Collective Gallery to give up and coming photographers the chance to build their careers, allowing the likes of John Canon, to hone their skills, expand their portfolios and establish themselves in the industry, too. “My mission with Collective Gallery was to challenge the position I felt photographers and content creators play within the culture and industry,” Kirk shares. “We invest and develop our photographers in the same nature and manner that music labels work with musicians. We work to ensure they are able to make a living off their passion and talents, and we financially invest into their ideas and passions that help push them further in their craft.”

“I’ve been able to build a repertoire with many artists because I always look for ways to add value to their career.”

In three words, how would you describe your job to someone who isn’t familiar with the music industry?

“Artist Image Creator.” My job is to create the artist’s image that the world consumes and falls in love with.

Can you run us through a day in your work life?

My typical work day has so many elements. If I’m not personally on set, my day usually starts at my office, working with my staff on a number of upcoming projects. My office is adjacent to Cam Kirk Studios, so I usually pop my head in there to check on the staff working that business. I spend a ton of time in meetings with potential clients or with my internal staff across my different business verticals.

On a set day, I usually spend mornings reviewing shot lists and my overall approach for the day. The majority of my sets usually last about six to eight hours, and sometimes, depending on the project, can last up to about 12 hours.

How has Collective Gallery grown since its inception four years ago?

We’ve had such an overwhelming demand of photographers wanting to be signed to our team that we decided to build out an agency division. So far, our agency has produced a number of projects for some of the largest brands in the world including American Express, Nike, PUMA, Airbnb, NBA, Netflix and more, all while giving opportunities to young creators.

You recently launched the streaming platform CKS. When did you begin working on this and how did the idea of this educational platform for creatives come about?

I like to think all of my business ventures are natural stepping stones to one another. Cam Kirk Studios was a natural progression of me being a content creator. CKS is no different. For the past 10 years, I made a living capturing content for other outlets and brands to monetize — and I finally developed the plan to do those same things for myself. CKS will be a network for content that I directly create and produce as well as a home for other content creators to distribute their ideas. Content on the platform will consist of educational courses, celebrity interviews, cooking and cocktail web shows, sports content, real estate and more, all from a creative’s perspective.

“Understand the ins and outs of your industry so you can strategize where you can fit in.”

Tell us the story of your most memorable shoot with an artist yet.

If I had to highlight one, my most memorable on-set would have to be photographing Young Thug for Guisseppe Zanoti. We literally photographed this entire campaign in under one hour because Thug showed up nine hours late and we had a hard out at the studio. He definitely tested my skills with this project but our chemistry was so strong that we ran through the shoot effortlessly. It was easily some of my best work in fashion and ended up living in Guisseppe stores for months.

How do you build that repertoire with your collaborators?

I’ve been able to build a repertoire with many artists because I always look for ways to add value to their career, even if it extends past my job title in that particular project. I’ve brokered brand deals for artists, gotten artists paid to score content pieces, booked performances for artists, created marketing strategies and more for over my career, so they know that I am going to go the extra mile to make sure the project is a success.

What are the necessary first steps someone should take to enter a career in music as a creative?

The first step I think anybody should take when entering any career path, but especially music, is to educate yourself thoroughly on the industry. You wouldn’t even start working at McDonald’s without proper training, so the same applies to different career paths. Understand the ins and outs of your industry so you can strategize where you can fit in.

What lessons and/or work ethics did you only pick up after working in the music industry?

I learned patience and consistency from the music industry. To work in music, you have to master patience because things will never go as planned or expected. You have to be flexible and willing to adapt. I also learned consistency because this is a very “What have you done lately?” type of industry. You are only as relevant as your last project so you have to keep giving people something to remember you for, and you have to continue to find ways to be top of mind.

“I plant a lot of seeds for the future and I treat everybody with the utmost respect regardless of their position.”

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face so far and how did you overcome it?

Being an entrepreneur is by far one of the biggest challenges that I have ever faced. It’s a constant grind and process, so I don’t know if I will ever fully overcome it, but it’s a challenge that I am grateful to have.

What is one thing about your job that most people would find unexpected or surprising?

Most people would be surprised how little I actually pick up a camera. There are so many other aspects to running a creative business that oftentimes, actually executing the craft becomes something you do the least of. I probably pick up my camera twice or thrice a month nowadays and the rest of my time is spent on the other business aspects.

Is there a secret to career longevity in this industry?

My secret has been quality work and quality relationships. I plant a lot of seeds for the future and I treat everybody with the utmost respect regardless of their position. Sometimes it’s best to also do great work and stay out of the way. You will never catch me minding somebody else’s business or giving into industry distractions.

What are some habits you follow regularly to always maintain a good headspace for work?

I like to surround myself with youthful energy. Most of my staff are in their early 20s which keep me leveled, grounded and hip to new trends. Young people are often dreamers and have not been as discouraged as older generations, and they allow you to be more imaginative with your ideas.

What does a day off look like for you?

A day off for me, which is very rare, can consist of hanging out with friends, catching up on some TV shows, going to a night club or strip club, or spending a day on the golf course.

How do you see your jobs as both photographer and executive evolving with the music industry in the next five years?

I see the demand for my companies and I multiplying even more in the next five years. I feel like the world is slowly growing a fondness for photographers and our impact, which can only mean more and more opportunities for me.

If not working in music, what would you be doing?

I probably would be working in somebody’s marketing department, but hopefully as an exec by now.

Stay tuned for more features with music industry professionals — from managers to sound engineers, stagehands and others; the people who make the music world go round without standing behind a microphone.

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