Photographer Cam Kirk Discusses His Creators Lab: 'We're More Than A Studio, We're A Community Center'

By Bianca Gracie | May 9, 2024

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bt_LOQ8BKA3XEJO6PPEXQYBERUCMC5IG.jpgCam Kirk. Photo by Scrill Davis

After establishing himself as one of music’s go-to photographers, shooting rappers like Lil Baby, Gucci Mane and Latto in his Atlanta-based studio, Cam Kirk is continuing to expand his space so the surrounding community can also build their creative skills. The Creators Lab, in partnership with Billionaire Boys Club (Pharrell Williams and Nigo’s streetwear brand), is free and available for all creators to get education and resources to cutting-edge tech and equipment.

How did this year’s Yesterday Tomorrow conference go?

So this was our fifth year of the Yesterday’s Tomorrow conference, which I started back in 2020. Third time doing it in person. We did it two times virtually due to COVID. This was definitely our biggest conference to date. The thing I love so much about this conference is the structure of it. So in order to attend this conference, you have to do community service with us. So leading up to our big conference event, we have multiple community service events that we require our community to volunteer with if they want a free ticket to the conference. This year, as we get bigger and bigger, we see more people in a room. I mean, you’re looking at 200-300 people that did service to get here. As those numbers increase, I just think about the impact that the conference is having physically on our community, and then also on the people that get to attend and get the gems. So this year, we had DC Young Fly headline, alongside JID and Vic Blends. Overall, it just was an amazing experience.

I do like the fact that folks have to do community service prior to attending because sometimes when you go to conferences, you just show up and then there's no real incentive. Having that tie-in brings even more of that community element.

Yeah, and it makes sure that people in the room really want to be here. Anybody could get a free ticket or spend $20 on a ticket. But the core of our audience literally gave their time, energy and effort to ensure that they came here, which sometimes is more valuable than money. So it just ensures that they are in it for the right reasons and have the right spirit about really getting something out of it. Which I think just lends for a more engaged audience.

What was the inspiration behind launching the Creators Lab?

So we’re coming up on seven years with the studio. From day one, I always wanted to create an environment or a home, so to speak. I like to call it a close circle where it’s a one-stop shop with everything our clients need to create. They don’t have to leave here and then go to three other places to finish a project. We were blessed and honored to be able to partner with Billionaire Boys Club to really elevate the experience and to bring a new energy to our space. This lab has all the tools and resources you need to really create whatever project you’re working on. So Microsoft has donated some top-line computers that are equipped with everything from the Adobe Suite, Photoshop, and Illustrator Premiere. We also have beat-making software in there if you’re a music producer. We also have an area dedicated to eSports and gaming. If you just want to get out of your house and be in a creative environment, you can come to our Creators Lab and take full advantage of our resources.

Ryan Wilson (middle), CEO of The Gathering Spot, with kids from Usher's New Look nonprofit at Cam Kirk Studios' Yesterday Tomorrow conference in Atlanta in January. Photo courtesy of Cam Kirk Studios

I want to touch more on the Billionaire Boys' Club partnership. Can you share what exactly they're helping out with?

BBC has been a great partner. As a photographer, I've been working with the brand for some years. So this idea to partner on a more permanent residency was great. BBC helps to provide a lot of the resources we have inside of the lab. So they gave a lot of financial support to amplify and buy some of the software and things that we have in there. On top of that, we have an ongoing partnership where we do an event once a quarter called ‘Clubs Talks’ where we see bring in special guest speakers to host fireside chats. So they're providing resources and manpower behind that.

We're going to start doing more intimate, tutorials and workshops inside of our lab, where throughout the months, you’ll be able to learn about Photoshop one-on-one or you and maybe two other people. So they're providing a lot of infrastructure and support to help with that. And then just from a brand recognition and credibility standpoint, they're really just providing a layer of ‘cool’ for our community to come in and see the BBC logos, the ice cream logos and Pharrell’s face on our screen. Just to know a brand of this magnitude is reaching down and cares about this community and the creators specifically in Atlanta. I think the most impactful thing that it does is make our community feel seen. It wasn't a heavy lift for BBC to be able to support it. But the impact of it goes a long way.

What is something that you've learned about yourself over this past year?

I was a photographer before, but photography is very collaborative. I can't take a photo of nothing. It's been me just curating an idea, whether it's a marketing idea, whether it's a pricing model, whether it's a business structure, it's been literally me. So I learned a lot just about confidence in my ideas, confidence in my vision, and confidence as a leader. I have close to 20 total employees. When I started as a photographer, it was just me. So knowing that my vision can put food on the table for other people, is something that instills a lot of confidence in me. And it also lets me know that my vision is up there with the big companies. Although I might be a small business and they might be worth millions and billions of dollars, the concept is all the same. It's just scaled differently. That just gave me a lot of confidence. So I think the biggest thing I learned about myself is that I can do it and I'm very confident in what we're creating here. And I've learned, more importantly, the power of community. As a solo entrepreneur, it's just you and your camera. To run a business, it really depends on and is rooted in community building and your ability to connect with people.

I think that’s great, especially for creators, because sometimes they don't often know what direction to turn into.

Yes, it's an ever-changing landscape for a creator in this day and age. Three years ago, we weren’t using TikTok. It's something that just changed the whole landscape for creators. Now you can create different styles and be creative in different ways. So I think it's scary for a lot of creators right now, because the blueprint is either being created on the fly, or it's changing on the fly. So you have to adapt really fast. That's why we just tried to create a home environment where we're learning as well. But as we learn things, we share things and we create a community where you can connect with somebody else that's maybe figured it out.

Do you have anything else like that coming this year?

Our studio is constantly hosting events. We have a program called ‘Night School’. We do it once or twice a month, where we bring in a guest instructor, and they do a full-fledged class on pretty much some type of subject within the world of creativity and business. So in March, we have a big one that we're doing with a marketing Exec. We do a lot of these free events where the community can come join, learn from great instructors and build their network with each other. So those things happen in our studio on a monthly basis.

We're coming up on our seventh anniversary. So our anniversary month, we really kick into gear and do a lot of really big programming around that month. We have another program that we do once a quarter, it's called ‘Spin The Block.’ It's our community cleanup event that we do. We usually do this around our neighborhood. We walk a trail and it's a community cleanup mix with a photo walk. Throughout the destination, we pick three photoshoot areas where we stop and host the photo competition. So anyone on the walk with us, they get 15-20 minutes at each destination to get with a model or get with a friend that's with them. And whoever can come up with the best photographs wins free studio time. So throughout that, we're cleaning our community, but also documenting and showing the beauty of our community.

And then we just kicked off, which I think is probably the most anticipated and fun event that we've been doing more recently, for our music lovers. We've been doing live DJ sets at our studio. We bring in local DJs and we have a curated intimate vibe. It's been no more than 15 to 20 people get a chance to. It's like that Boiler Room look and we record the whole DJ mix and put it out online. But then if you're in the room, you get to be a part of that, that filming process and just rock out with a DJ. We always look for cool ways for our community to engage with each other, come together and enjoy our space in different ways. We never wanted to be looked at as just a photo studio. It's almost like a community center.

Tags: Bianca Gracie,

Photography by: Cam Kirk Studios; Scrill Davis