By John Stephen

THE NEW KINGS OF ATLANTA

How two #VState grads are carving out a space for themselves

at the highest levels of Atlanta’s creative scene.

At Atlanta’s epicenter, nestled among the high-rises and iconic tourist destinations, is an unassuming brick building next to a Greyhound station and MARTA stop. The edifice is mostly aged decor and government offices, but on the fourth floor, in one corner, an entirely different world awaits.


Sunlight streams through large windows into a space that is all at once chic and modern, retro and nostalgic. Sesame Street stuffed animals sit on a bright orange couch next to a green shag rug and a white table stacked with aesthetic polaroids, books, and magazines.


Toys, memorabilia, and novelty art are showcased next to books on hip-hop greats like Jay-Z and Kanye West, and those are mixed in with a carefully curated collection of works on design, photography, and other artistic professions.


The air crackles with creative energy as photographers and videographers file in and out all day to shoot on one of two sets.


This is the world of Cam Kirk Studios, and it’s where Valdosta State University alumni Dexter Davis, 27, and Adrian Scott, 24, call home. Both are on staff at the studio after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in mass media from VSU, Davis in 2015 and Scott in 2016.


Davis, from Athens, Georgia, and Scott, from Atlanta suburb Riverdale, were drawn to Atlanta because of the city’s thriving artistic community.


“There are so many creatives here,” said Davis, who also goes by Scrill. “A lot of people are getting their break in Atlanta. There’s so much going on. Everyone wants to come to Atlanta to take their career to the next level.”


At Cam Kirk Studios, all creatives are welcome, from the most seasoned veteran to the kid who just got his first camera.

The culture they are consuming is the one they’re creating and advancing each and every day.

But don’t misinterpret the studio’s chill vibe. That Mortal Kombat arcade game over there? The rapper 21 Savage was photographed beside it just a couple months ago. That colorful backdrop against the back wall? The dancers Ayo and Teo — who rose to fame with their “rolly, rolly” song “Rolex” and are now defining the moves of a generation — stood in front of it in early March and finessed the camera with their signature style.


Many of the rappers who blast through the studio speakers on any given day — Future, Migos, 2 Chainz, Rae Sremmurd, Lil Yachty, and Gucci Mane, all of whom are from Atlanta — have been photographed by the man in the studio’s title, 31-year-old maverick Cam Kirk. The trendy streetwear worn by staff and visitors often comes from brands on the studio’s client list — Nike, Puma, Adidas. The culture they are consuming is the one they’re creating and advancing each and every day.

An Atlanta Institution

Cam Kirk Studios is a fixture in Atlanta’s hip hop and creative scene, simultaneously capturing its essence and pushing it forward. Kirk is one of the most sought after photographers in the rap game today, with an impressive roster of relationships and experience with A-list stars and producers in Atlanta and beyond. His work has been recognized and featured by Forbes, Rolling Stone Magazine, Hypebeast, Vice Magazine, Fader Magazine, Complex Magazine, XXL Magazine, ESPN, Pitchfork, and the New York Times, to name a few.


The studio is Kirk’s way of paying it forward to the city and culture that he says gave him his livelihood. Anyone can reserve time at the studio for free, and regular workshops are held to cover the ins and outs of photography, videography, design, and other creative endeavors. Since opening to the public in July 2017, Cam Kirk Studios has quickly established itself as a deeply credible creative hub that is influencing and raising up the next generation of Atlanta artists.


Davis and Scott discovered and honed their creative passions while at VSU, crediting the school with helping to launch them to where they are today. In Valdosta they said they learned to create for the pure joy of it and were given the technical education needed to traverse their creative fields. Now they are carving out a space for themselves at the highest levels of Atlanta’s creative scene.

Photos by Adrian Scott. See more of his work here.

ADRIAN SCOTT

Capturing the Essence

Scott, who is known as A-Boogy around the studio, said he immediately “bought into the vision that Cam has as far as having a place for creatives here in Atlanta to come and network and build their business and their brand.”


At the studio, where he’s been on staff for the past year and a half, Scott is able to flex many of his creative muscles. In addition to helping clients with things like lighting and backdrops, he conducts interviews with artists that are distributed through various digital platforms. He shoots concerts and other events, and he is also one of the studio’s graphic designers, creating a wide range of content.


Scott’s favorite thing to do is portrait photography, sitting down with someone and capturing their personality, their unique looks and traits, through a lens.


“There are so many variables that go into getting a great image of someone,” he said. “When I see somebody in front of me on a backdrop with lights, or on location, it’s just the challenge of trying to get the essence of that person into a whole photograph. It’s a great thing for me. I just love doing it.”


Scott has a knack for shooting expressive candids that capture people in their natural element. His sleek, accessible photographs, often infused with a single vibrant color, draw a viewer in and make it easy to connect with the subject. He and a fellow Cam Kirk staffer have completed multiple photography series, under the title “Spectrum,” that explore various color themes, and he plans to do more.

Creating Worlds of Fine Art

Davis, who has been with Cam Kirk Studios since its inception, is one of the general managers. He handles day-to-day operations, oversees the floor, and ensures things go smoothly for the average of 14 appointments that take place every day. He also hosts studio workshops and is one of the innovators tasked with coming up with cool ideas for what the studio can do next.


Throughout his time at VSU, Davis asked as many questions as he could about cameras and how they worked. He is continuing to learn and grow, but now he is the one that people — and even Kirk himself sometimes — come to with questions. His work is clear evidence of why.


Davis’ portraits are like pieces of fine art, pulsating with effervescent color and clean compositions. His work creates worlds that a viewer wants to step into to discover more of the story. He makes his subjects both relatable and otherworldly in the same snap.


Davis wants people to see his work as masterpieces, something that people don’t see too often, something that people want to linger on and put in their house. His style is best represented by his recent exhibition, Modern Day Supermodels.


“I wanted to take everyday black women who weren’t models and dress them up very fashionably and present them as if they were models,” he said. “I just wanted to make them feel beautiful and share their life and personality.”

DEXTER DAVIS

DEXTER DAVIS

Creating Worlds of Fine Art

Davis, who has been with Cam Kirk Studios since its inception, is one of the general managers. He handles day-to-day operations, oversees the floor, and ensures things go smoothly for the average of 14 appointments that take place every day. He also hosts studio workshops and is one of the innovators tasked with coming up with cool ideas for what the studio can do next.


Throughout his time at VSU, Davis asked as many questions as he could about cameras and how they worked. He is continuing to learn and grow, but now he is the one that people — and even Kirk himself sometimes — come to with questions. His work is clear evidence of why.


Davis’ portraits are like pieces of fine art, pulsating with effervescent color and clean compositions. His work creates worlds that a viewer wants to step into to discover more of the story. He makes his subjects both relatable and otherworldly in the same snap.


Davis wants people to see his work as masterpieces, something that people don’t see too often, something that people want to linger on and put in their house. His style is best represented by his recent exhibition, Modern Day Supermodels.


“I wanted to take everyday black women who weren’t models and dress them up very fashionably and present them as if they were models,” he said. “I just wanted to make them feel beautiful and share their life and personality.”

Photos by Dexter Davis. See more of his work here.

Davis photographed 20 women over nine months. The women, ranging from construction workers to college students, were shot on streets beneath skyscrapers, in the countryside, on island shores, and in Cam Kirk Studios. The result is a stunning display of glamour mixed with authentic human emotion.


“I strive to show emotion in my work,” Davis said. “I try to put emphasis on a feeling, and I try to bring out the best in the person that I’m shooting. Each time someone looks at my work, I want them to feel an emotional connection with the subject and the photograph. That’s what I want to be known for. That’s going to take me from being a good artist to a great artist.”


The Modern Day Supermodels exhibit was hosted at the studio at the end of February. It was Davis’ first exhibit, and hundreds of people showed up, packing the studio for the entire night, marking the event as a huge success.


“I knew that when we built this studio it would become a mecca in Atlanta for people to come create,” Davis said. “That’s one reason why I wanted to get involved, to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

Nike x Cam Kirk

One of those bigger-than-life opportunities unfolded when the Super Bowl came to Atlanta in February. Davis and Scott were able to take part in a colossal project between Cam Kirk Studios and Nike. The iconic brand recreated Cam Kirk Studios at a popup in midtown Atlanta, and during Super Bowl weekend held a slew of events there, from photoshoots with Kirk to workshops on designing clothes to performances by big-name artists like 21 Savage and talks by football legends like Jerry Rice.


Why did Nike choose Cam Kirk Studios as the inspiration for this special pop-up? “Because they know that Cam Kirk studios is the place for creatives in Atlanta,” Davis said. “We’re pretty much the home of the creative scene in Atlanta.”


Scott said it was “next level to see a black-owned business collaborate with a corporation at the caliber of Nike. I think that’s huge.”

A recreation of Cam Kirk Studios that Nike constructed in Atlanta during Super Bowl weekend 2019.
Photo credit: Adrian Scott (@exhibitaworks)

“I think Dex and A-Boogy mean a lot to the culture because they’re the representation of what’s next."
-Cam Kirk

The VSU Impact

Scott and Davis came to Atlanta to take their careers to the next level, and both say they have learned so much from Kirk and gleaned so much inspiration from being in the creative environment of Cam Kirk Studios daily.


They both also point to their at time at VSU — to their professors, their student organizations, and their overall experience — as a major player in shaping who they are today.


Davis bought his first camera at VSU, and a special memory for him was taking a course on black and white film photography with Professor Dominick Gheesling, where Davis learned how to shoot with film and process it in a dark room.


“It was just amazing to see myself do something that I never thought I could do,” he said. “I had an amazing time at VSU. It taught me a lot of life lessons. It taught me responsibility. VSU introduced me to people from different walks of life, and it taught me to see things from a different perspective. Most importantly, it taught me to work as much as possible and be the best version of myself that I can be.


“VSU played a pivotal role in the things I’m doing now as far as the way I move and the way I think. Valdosta had a major impact on me.”


Scott said he found a strong community at VSU by being a member of Media Arts Geniuses, the Black Student League, and the Lambda Phi chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, as well as working as a student assistant in VSU’s Creative Services.


“My VSU experience did a great job of shaping who I am today,” he said. “Applying myself outside the classroom really helped me develop a sense of initiative. The curriculum within the classroom also helped me technically as far as learning how to use a camera and how to use different software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere Pro. My development is definitely a testament to VSU and its staff.”

"VSU played a pivotal role in the things I’m doing now as far as the way I move and the way I think. Valdosta had a major impact on me."

A New Atlanta Legacy

Now Davis and Scott are quickly becoming intertwined in Atlanta’s entertainment and creative legacy that stretches back to before they were born. The Georgia capital has been steadily churning out superstar rappers and entertainers for decades — including OutKast, TLC, Usher, Toni Braxton, Ludacris, CeeLo Green, and T.I. — and the current roster of A-list rappers and performers from Atlanta remains robust. Atlanta, described as “the new cultural capital of America” and “hip-hop’s center of gravity,” is credited as the birth place of trap music and the home to a booming movie and television industry, including Donald Glover’s hit FX show “Atlanta.”


Artists and creators of all types are attracted to the city just as Davis and Scott were, but not all of them end up in the inner circle of one of the most prominent names in town.


“I meet a lot of kids that want to work for me or want to work around me, and I’m very selective,” Kirk said. “For me, it’s always about, ‘Can I trust you?’ I picked up off the bat that Dex is reliable, dependable, and trustworthy. Once I got past that barrier, I took a look at his work, and I was blown away. I had finally met someone who I feel like I can learn from on the daily as much as I can give guidance to. Dex has been a slight mentor to me sometimes when it comes to photography tricks and tools. I’m not afraid to ask, ‘Yo Dex, how’d you get that shot?’ His work is phenomenal. I love the fact that although he’s around me, he’s maintained his own personal identity.


“And I feel the same way about Adrian. Dex introduced me to Adrian, and from there, he’s been family ever since. Adrian has a lot of the same qualities as Dex. He’s very dependable, very reliable, and highly motivated. He has hella integrity. He’s somebody that I can trust, and I’m inspired every day by the growth I see in both of them.


“I think Dex and A-Boogy mean a lot to the culture because they’re the representation of what’s next. The work that they’re putting in, the time that they’re spending to perfect and develop their craft, is to me just an example of the scene in Atlanta. We always got somebody next. We always got somebody coming with their own style, their own way. These two guys had a similar journey to here, but they’re still two very different people and have very different styles, and there’s room for them here. So I’m excited to see what they have to offer and what they bring to the scene.”

Cam Kirk

Learn more about VSU's Mass Media program.