By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
In three short years, Tyra Grayson has photographed some of music’s notable artists, including big-name rappers Travis Scott, Lil Baby, Future, and T.I. For the 22-year-old North Birmingham native, this is just the beginning.
Grayson’s goal is to become a tour photographer and document the day-to-day lives of music artists. She’s already made strides capturing several hip-hop stars onstage in Atlanta, Ga., including Travis Scott at the 2019 Music Midtown festival, and Lil Baby, Future, and T.I. in concert at the Coca-Cola Roxy during the January 2020 “No Place Like Home” show.
The budding celebrity and entertainment photographer and videographer travels to Atlanta frequently for networking purposes, as well as to work with freelance photographers and the artists and producers at hip-hop label Quality Control Music. Atlanta is also where Grayson learned she had to step up her game.
“There was a club I couldn’t get into because they have staff [photographers], so if you’re an outsider you can’t get in,” she said. “I reached out to try to work with one of the [staff] photographers, and he called my gear amateur and started telling me I wasn’t good enough for what they were doing.”
That may have been a “downer,” but it didn’t keep Grayson down—she came up with a plan.
“I started upgrading my gear and looking into what could make me better,” she said. “I studied what I could do better instead of crying about it. … I just kept being myself and pushing forward.”
Grayson’s first camera was Sigma given by her late grandfather Art Grayson. Eventually, her cousin Gina gave her Nikon D3300, “which is my main and current camera,” Grayson said.
“I realized that nothing was going to move if I didn’t,” said the photographer, who grew up in Birmingham’s Acipco-Finley community. “I put that into perspective and started reaching out, whether it was locally or out of state. I kept networking and developing relationships not just with rap artists but with managers, [artists and repertoire (A&R) executives], and journalists to work my way in. … It all starts with reaching out to people first.”
Grayson got into photography after being encouraged by her grandfather, who had been a blues singer and guitarist: “I was 20 years old when he insisted on me trying photography,” she said.
“One day he came to me and told me he wanted me to pick up his camera because he wasn’t using it. … So, I started off taking pictures of trees and my friends [in Birmingham]. It started from there.”
Before picking up the camera, Grayson said she was “doing music.”
“I was rapping, … [and] in the midst of rapping, I was still figuring out what I wanted to do in the music industry. I knew this was the industry I wanted to be in, but I wanted to feel around and see what fit me.”
As it turns out, photography, graphic design, and videography fit Grayson best. Her grandfather was instrumental in her graphic design work, as well, because she printed T-shirts alongside him for the Art Grayson Co. In 2019, she started doing videography.
“A lot of local creatives were encouraging me to get into the video aspect not only because there was money in it but also to widen my range of creativity,” Grayson said. “I started off doing [inner-city hip-hop] event highlights at [venues like] Zydeco, The Haven, and El Sol before I started doing music videos for local Birmingham artists. … I found a different wave of creativity in that field.”
Grayson is the youngest of two children (she has an older brother, Michael) and was raised by her mother, Cheryl, and grandparents Art and Barbara Grayson. Her ambitions were fueled by the creativity and love of art she saw in others.
“When I surround myself with people who do the same things I do, it inspires me to get better and take this career more seriously,” she said.
The former high school basketball player said she adopted the late National Basketball Association (NBA) phenom Kobe Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality”—“not just when I played basketball,” she said. “I always used it as a life lesson.”
The G.W. Carver High School grad got her foot in the entertainment door with Baton Rouge, La., rap artist Boosie Badazz.
“I had already met his manager and shot him onstage before, but I had yet to meet him [personally],” Grayson recalled. “Another photographer and I were at a Boosie show in Nashville, [Tenn.], and [afterward there was] a meet-and-greet, where [Boosie’s] manager introduced us. [Boosie and I] talked for a while, and I told him I’d done some [shooting and graphics] for [his adult children, who are also aspiring music artists]. He was happy about that and asked me if I was ready to work, ready to go on tour. From that point on I’ve been doing flyers for [Boosie]. … I’ve shot with him four or five times, but as far as creating graphics and doing flyers for him, I’ve kind of lost count. He knows me on a first-name basis.”
She was the photographer for Boosie Badazz at the 2018 Jay Cooper Promoter Anniversary concert Sloss Furnaces; tour stops in Union Springs, Ala, and Nashville, Tenn.; and video shoots in Atlanta, Ga.
The Ultimate Goal
Grayson operates under her company, Birmingham-based TGD Tyra Grayson Designs. She also is currently enrolled and studying graphic design online at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla.
Her ultimate goal is to “… become a tour photographer and document the day-to-day activities of [music artists],” she said. “Right now, I mainly capture backstage shots of them getting ready to take the stage and perform.”
Grayson also hopes to give back to up-and-coming visual artists and be a bridge into the mainstream for other aspiring entertainment photographers.
“I want to be a role model,” she said. “I’d love to start a mentorship program to help younger kids get into photography and find their way artistically, … to teach them how to create in their own lane. I feel like, in the future, I could be the [way in] for a lot of other photographers that are afraid to jump into the industry because it’s so big or they just don’t know how.
“I want them to know that just because the industry is big, doesn’t mean they can’t get into it. Don’t be afraid to venture out. Don’t be afraid of being shut down.”
Tyra Grayson’s work can be found online at graysontyra.wixsite.com/
Updated at 5:07 p.m. on 2/13/2020 to correct website address