This Photographer of Rap Stars Created a ‘Record Label for Photographers’

Cam Kirk’s Collective Gallery signs photographers in a similar way a label signs artists

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Photographer Cam Kirk photographed hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd vibing onstage. / Cam Kirk

“A photographer properly monetizing [his or her] influence can very easily make $1 million a year in this day and age. I know some that do it, and I’m very close to doing it,” Cam Kirk, the man behind the lens of many rappers, told ONE37pm. Kirk, who has watched the landscape of photography change since he started taking photos in 2012, has shot many of the biggest rap artists of this decade, including Chance the Rapper, Lil Uzi Vert, Travis Scott, Young Thug and Gucci Mane. 

We now live in a world where brands will pay a Kardashian $1.2 million for an Instagram post and where Apple has billboards of photos shot on iPhones. Photographers are being nominated for iHeartMusic Awards honors similar to artists because photographers are beginning to be viewed as brands just like those artists. 

To capitalize on this, Kirk and his business partner John Rose, an entertainment lawyer, decided to treat photographers as such with the launch of his self-funded “record label” of sorts called The Collective Gallery, with the intention of signing photographers the way record labels sign artists. A record label advances an artist a certain amount of money to complete a project. The Collective Gallery will do the same for a photographer who may want to put on an exhibit, a photo book or anything the photographer wants to do with a creative vision. In fact, the creative label plans to give the first photographer it signs a $20,000 advance to do just that.

The Collective Gallery aims to connect photographers with brands for campaigns, secure endorsement deals and build their personal brands. The company will provide studio space the same way a record label does for an artist.


The Collective Gallery aims to connect photographers with brands for campaigns, secure endorsement deals and build their personal brands. The company will provide studio space the same way a record label does for an artist. It’s ambitious, but Kirk is confident the concept will work for one central reason: It already has worked.

“I was the first blueprint with what we’re doing with Collective Gallery and what we see ourselves doing with other photographers. I was the first guinea pig in testing out our abilities in taking a photographer and monetizing them in similar ways a record label would take a music artist and monetize them off of their likeness,” Kirk said.

Kirk navigated the birth of an entirely new industry for photographers and developed a blueprint on how to brand a photographer that previously didn’t exist for him. “Around 2015, I was coming off [Travis Scott’s] Rodeo tour and I felt the need to establish my own footprint and empire versus continuing to go from tour to tour, artist to artist, and different situations,” Kirk said. “So when I got off the Rodeo tour, one of the first things we did was plan my own exhibit and event built around my name.”

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The Collective Gallery team / Cam Kirk

Sometimes when you want people to see a vision they’ve never imagined, you have to show them something they never seen. A photo exhibit in a trap house definitely is that. After the Rodeo tour, Kirk and Rose took hard drives of photos Kirk had of Gucci Mane that he’d never released and posted them around the walls of a makeshift trap house made for their interactive Trap God exhibit in Atlanta. 

The exhibit was a huge success, garnering Kirk’s immense brand recognition. After years of acquiring sponsorships, endorsements and collaboration with major brands like Nike and Adidas, Kirk’s hard work is paying off.

“I have been fortunate and blessed enough to work my [day rate] up to numbers that are frankly higher than some of these artists are getting paid to perform,” he said.

The Collective Gallery is not only making a record label for photographers, it’s also making a record label out of a photographer. The studio that Collective Gallery signees will be able to use is the self-funded photography studio Kirk has had for the last two years. The Collective Gallery photographers’ brand partnerships surely will come from Kirk, Rose and the team leveraging the vast network of brands that have worked with Kirk. That’s why, Kirk says, a potential signee’s social media following won’t heavily factor in The Collective Gallery’s acquisition strategy, even if it may appear easier to monetize a photographer with a large following.

Photographers have gone from behind the lens to in front of the lens. Literally, they’re doing the same sponsorship deals these artists are doing.

- John Rose, entertainment lawyer

“It might be easier if you’re basing your resources simply on what they can do. My guy that shot the AT&T campaign has less than 10,000 followers. My guy that shot T.I. for Dutch Masters has less than 8,000 followers. When you have the right stamp and right backing, your social media following is an added bonus but it isn’t the end all be all,” Kirk said.

There are unique caveats to The Collective Gallery that separates it from traditional record labels. Typically, an artist doesn’t make money off their work until the record label has recouped the money that was advanced them, which means many artists go a year or more without a royalty check. That’s not the case at The Collective Gallery, where the company will take a percentage of the revenue a photographer generates but will immediately share a percentage with the photographer, even before the photographer fully recoups the advance.

Even if a Collective Gallery photographer isn’t generating revenue over a while, the company will give a percentage of the gross revenue of the company, possibly every quarter, to that photographer. Rose will also be on hand to provide photographers with insight into copyrighting their work, what language to look out for on contracts and a host of legal advice that could cost an independent photographer money they might not have. With Rose, photographers are getting the same engine that helped propel Kirk.

“The photography work doesn’t stop with the photos. Photographers have gone from behind the lens to in front of the lens,” Rose said. “They’re doing the same sponsorship deals these artists are doing. The deals I do for Cam are the same deals I do for artists.”

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Travis Scott gets photographed during a performance. / Cam Kirk

The photography world will soon enter a new decade where the line between photographer and artist is blurred. Celebrity photographer Gunner Stahl curated a music concert where he was a DJ and got performances from artists he’d shot. It’s now possible for photographers to leverage their work for more than having their Instagram handle credited when big brands use their photos. For Kirk, The Collective Gallery is the actualization of an inevitability. 

“I truly believe this is a concept that, when they see what we can do, it’ll hands down be a situation in five to 10 years where rosters like Def Jam and Interscope will have creatives signed to them that they can monetize in different capacities,” Kirk said.

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