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Garrett Bruce Interview: New Jersey photographer continues to capture timeless moments

Princeton, New Jersey native Garrett Bruce is finding every angle to succeed at just 20-years-old.

As an already seasoned photographer amassing an enviable network of top industry talent, Bruce clearly sees things through a different lens — known for taking some of the best photos of many of hip-hop’s most recognizable faces.

At this point, his Instagram feed looks more like a who’s who of the most important people in music: with mindblowing images of everyone from Juice WRLD, Chief Keef, Pharrell, J Balvin, Lil Baby, Miley Cyrus, Tyga, Young Thug, Kanye West and tons more — utilizing his unique perspective and signature film-like edits to elevate his subjects.

His fierce hustle and unique position in the industry have ultimately given him a front row seat to the meteoric rise of many of hip-hop’s most important stars of today. Touting rare images of Pop Smoke, some of the first widely circulated pictures of Playboi Carti (including a rare one with A$AP Rocky in 2017), and even shots of an early-stage Gunna opening for Carti — Bruce’s star-studded portfolio stretches all the way back to 2016 with thousands of photos to show for it.

We chopped it up with Garrett to learn more about his come-up, his recent work and plans for the future — in addition to the upcoming release of his new book set to drop later this month — just in time for his 21st birthday.

Going back to the beginning, Bruce picked up a camera for the first time in 2014 (when he was just 13-years-old) after rescuing his sister’s old Canon Powershot from the garbage. He started out as many young photographers do, shooting urban decay scenes of graffiti and abandoned buildings before moving on to his street photography phase — interacting with random people on the street serving as early preparation for dealing with artists in oftentimes chaotic creative environments.

His first opportunity in music came when he managed to get himself hired for a K Camp performance at one of Princeton University’s Dining Clubs. After being dropped off by both of his skeptical parents — who likely weren’t fully aware of the concert phase he was about to step into — he went on to have the best evening of his life, deciding then and there that he would dedicate himself fully to photography and specifically in music.

After catching the bug, he spent all his free time connecting with people in effort to shoot more photos. Being within travel distance to both New York City and Philadelphia was a huge advantage for the teen wunderkind. While still a high school student, he would use every bit of free time to take a train to the city — finding any opportunity to pull up to a studio, event, concert, etc. to shoot with any artist he could get in touch with.

“At the time I had like no money. So I was basically asking my parents to hold it down, paying for train tickets, paying for tickets to shows… I would literally show up to the city with $10 in my pocket, not really knowing how I was gonna make it home.”

Garrett Bruce to OGM

Over time, through resourcefulness and a little bit of luck, he was able to establish relationships with artists and their managers and become one of their go-to photographers in NY — many of which just so happen to go on to become some of the biggest stars of our time. However, Garrett’s grind didn’t come without hiccups and growing pains.

“You’ve gotta remember I was still a young kid: 15, 16, 17 years-old running around with these artists. I was still new to it. In the early days, I think I definitely kind of stood out, I didn’t really dress like anyone else. There were definitely some moments where maybe I got too excited or was just a little out of pocket. Over time though, I learned how to be more professional, and that artists are really no different from regular people. And those are the sort of things you learn over time.”

Garrett Bruce to OGM

Garrett tells the story of one of those early artists he connected with: the-then up-and-coming Playboi Carti. Back in 2016, he managed to pay a random kid $100 (that he really didn’t have to spare) to sneak him into Carti’s NYC show, make his way backstage and ultimately had befriended his manager.

Even as an out-of-place looking 15-year-old, there were enough compelling qualities about Bruce and his work to impress both Carti and his manager — enough to let him shoot behind the scenes for the night. That night was the start of their relationship, and Garrett would go on to shoot Carti a number of times over the next several years — perhaps most notably capturing a rare flick of Carti and A$AP Rocky together in early 2017.

Those early pictures of Carti would be the first things that really created a reaction online — earning Garrett his first big wave of followers on social media due to Carti’s cult following and coinciding fan pages that obsess over rare shots of their leader.

As a result of his hustle and reliability, he began to establish a foothold in the New York rap scene in 2017. During that time, he would cultivate tight relationships with well-connected super producers in MikeWillMadeIt and MurdaBeatz, which helped opened the door to working with artists like Rae Sremmurd, Rich the Kid, Lil Yachty, Southside, A$AP Ferg and more — many of which can still be found on Garrett’s IG feed.

Garrett describes 2017 as an everyday grind full of countless crazy missions (while attending high school as a sophomore and junior) — but those missions ended up paying off in a major way. One example was when he shot an all-night studio session with Migos’ frontman Quavo on a school night — later taking the first train home in the morning to Princeton to attend school on time only to be back on the train later that day to be back in the city for Takeoff’s all-night session.

Another encouraging early moment that’s always stuck with Garrett was a late-night conversation with MikeWill after a session at Quad Studios. Sitting in the Sprinter van in the middle of Times Square, Mike dropped gems about what it really takes to be successful in the music industry — above all else stressing the importance of locking in with one artist and building real relationships.

Taking that to heart, a few months later was the first time Garrett feels like he properly locked in with an artist. SmokePurpp ended up bringing him on his 2017 tour at the height of his and Lil Pump’s career, giving a still 16-year-old Garrett his first real taste of the music industry during a whirlwind national tour complete with an international leg in Canada.

Garrett has also had brushes with some non-rap icons, helping to validate his hustle even further — especially to less hip-hop-inclined folks like his parents. On one occasion, he ended up bumping into Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul at a charity event — and managed to capture an awesome shot of the two TV stars. Perhaps his most notable non-artist came after answering a late-night call from MikeWill and hitching a ride to Manhattan at 2 a.m., only to end up having an intimate one-on-one photoshoot with Miley Cyrus.

One thing that immediately makes Garrett’s work stand out is his super clean, signature film-like edit — finding a way to tap into the growing taste for that vintage feel but without the ‘90s turnaround time. When asked what about his work he thinks people are drawn to, it’s all about the edit.

“I think people really like the edit I do. It kinda looks like film but it isn’t, so I can get the edit back quicker… I’ve always shot digital but I like the way film looks so that’s me basically trying to replicate film. With a little bit of my own swag, pop and colors… Aside from that I feel like I’m able to capture some special moments because I’m never satisfied, I’ll always try and push as hard as I can until we get the right moment and the right shots.”

Garrett Bruce to OGM

The memories that seem to stick out in Garrett’s mind more than any other are his interactions with late-legend, Pop Smoke — who he frequently stamps as his favorite artist. The first time he met Pop was when he was photographing Tyga at Rolling Loud LA. Knowing Garrett was already a fan of Pop’s music, Tyga’s DJ— DJ Sourmilk from LA Leakers — introduced the pair backstage.

Garrett and Pop crossed paths again during Paris Fashion Week later that year during Pop’s highly publicized Paris trip. Not too long after that, Spotify reached out to set up photoshoots to take artist portraits at their office — and two of those artists just so happened to be Jack Harlow and Pop Smoke.

“I think the photo (of Pop Smoke) from that shoot is probably my favorite photo that I’ve taken just because of how special it is and the meaning behind it. I think that was taken about 2 weeks before he passed, which is crazy to think about. It’s literally the only photo of mine I have hanging up in my room. It means a lot and the fact that this is the picture that was up in Times Square is super special.”

Garrett Bruce to OGM

He goes on to explain the sentimental full-circle moment of seeing his photo on the big Times Square billboard when Pop Smoke’s No. 1 album, Shoot For the Stars, Aim for the Moon was posthumously released in 2020.

“Going from taking the train on late night and early mornings, walking back and forth from Penn Station to get to these different studio sessions – looking up at the billboards in Times Square became a part of that trip… I used to be really going through it at some points; walking home cold in the rain, snow, walking through puddles… If you told me when I walking by there at 4am that I would have a picture up there one day, I never would have believed you …To end up having one up there with Pop was just a crazy full circle moment.”

Garrett Bruce to OGM

Already with an outrageous list of accomplishments – the full scope of which can be found in his upcoming book, set to release around his 21st birthday in April – this year Garrett has his sights set even higher. Changing up the strategy slightly, he is laser-focused on taking on bigger and more artistic projects, covers and editorials with a goal of putting in work every single day of 2022 — in between bowling sessions with Gunna and Young Thug.

In addition to shooting with select artists, these days Garrett is looking to lock in with labels and brands: a few recent examples being Comethazine’s ‘Comethazine The Album’ cover, Autumn!’s cover for his recent single “Jumpin!,” or a billboard campaign for Victor Victor. Over the last year, he’s completed projects for a long list of labels including UMG, 300, Sony, 10K, Interscope, Republic, Simple Stupid, Victor Victor and more — as well as clothing brands like Bravest and Sinclair.

At just 20 years of age, Garrett is a rare combination of talent, vision and undying hustle. He’s developed his own compelling style and built an unreal portfolio of many of the biggest stars of the last decade. On top of that, he is tapped in with many of the most powerful players in hip-hop, positioning himself as one of the go-to photographers of 2022 — all while maintaining a level of humility and maturity that is truly hard to wrap one’s head around.

“It’s a blessing. Back then I literally would have no money. I don’t even think they know this but my parents had a secret stash of cash that I found and that’s how I would get to the city. It really feels like a blessing for me to be in the position I’m in now, and be able to see what happens when you put in that work.”

Garret Bruce to OGM

For the full Garrett Bruce experience, be sure to check out his upcoming book set drop later this month – containing hundreds of exclusive images taken by Bruce.