When Kyle Cordova was 10 years old, moving from San Diego to Sacramento first clue that travelling might be part of his life in the future.
The family had to relocate because his father was starting a new business, which meant young Kyle had to leave his beloved karate school where he had earned his black belt and gone to since he was five years old, but he was excited to see a new city.
Now moving from city to city, country to country, is not only essential to Cordova’s career—it’s what makes him feel most alive.
While driving to his grandma’s house in December 2015, Cordova got a call from Justin Bieber’s choreographer and creative director, Nick DeMoura, who Cordova had come to know from working throughout the entertainment industry as a tricker and stunt double since his move to Los Angeles in June 2010. Cordova answered the phone expecting DeMoura to ask him to perform at an awards show or pick up a job for a few days. Instead, the first thing DeMoura said was, “What are you doing for the next two years?” And that is how Cordova, 25, professional tricker and martial artist with Justin Bieber on his worldwide Purpose Tour. The tour is currently performing in stadiums around the world.
This is Cordova’s first tour, and he says it will probably be his last tour as a tricker, given the physical demands. But being able to travel the world has allowed him to fall in love with photography and solidify it as a more permanent career. He’s now set a new goal: tour with artists as a photographer.
The launch of his brand and professional Instagram page, shotbykyle, which he made at the end of 2015, almost directly correlates with the start of Bieber’s Purpose Tour in early 2016.
“If I didn’t get the opportunity to do this tour, I feel like I would still be shooting, but I would have gone straight into stunts (in movies, television or national commercials),” Cordova says, “and in stunts, especially when you get booked on a film or something, you have no time. … shotbykyle probably wouldn’t be anything close to what it is right now. For sure. It’d probably still just be a hobby and not a passion. I feel like this helped me turn it into a passion.”
But there was a long road preceding DeMoura’s phone call and the opportunity of a lifetime.
As a toddler, and like most young boys, Cordova loved Bruce Lee movies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. But Cordova didn’t just like those movies. He wanted to do what he saw in those movies. His mother signed him up when he was five for Traditional American Karate classes in San Diego. By age 10, Cordova had his black belt. It wasn’t until a national tournament in Los Angeles, Compete Nationals, in February 2003 that Cordova was enamoured when he saw people flipping, flying, spinning weapons to music, and learned that was an art called tricking. Later that year, he began tricking. From 2004 to 2007, he competed in martial arts until his family could no longer afford the tournaments, but he kept tricking.
Around this time, too, Cordova was introduced to photography by his best friend Bobby who always had a camera. At the time, Cordova didn’t have a camera, but he loved the process of editing so much that he would practice on random photos downloaded from Google. Cordova graduated high school and attended Sacramento State in 2009 and 2010, where he excelled in the honors program for mechanical engineering. “I was fully into school, and then my friend who is a stuntman—a very, very professional, very successful stuntman in L.A.—was like, ‘Hey, come down and kick it with me. I want to show you what L.A. is like. I think you’ll really like it. You should come,’” Cordova explains of the moment that changed everything. “So I came down over winter break, and then I saw all the things L.A. had to offer and was like, ‘Yo, what?!’ He was like, ‘Yeah, you’ve secretly been training for this your whole life. You didn’t even know.’”
Once he moved to L.A., he capitalised on Cyber Monday and bought a Canon EOS Rebel t2i kit complete with a lens and filters for $800 using money he had earned as the stunt double for the lead actor in Footloose and doing a Rihanna music video. “I was 19 and made $12,000 in like three weeks,” Cordova says, “and I was like ‘Yo, I have so much money!’ So I blew a lot of my money, but the camera was the best thing that I bought.”
He shot with his t2i until the end of 2014 when he had saved enough money to buy the camera he shoots with now, a Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
“I felt like once I invested that much money into it, I was like, ‘OK, I’m committed,’” he says, “‘I’m gonna keep pushing this.’ From then on, I just started trying to up my game and now, on Instagram, I’m starting to meet a lot of the people that I look up to.”
Being on tour with Bieber has undoubtedly helped Cordova develop as a photographer, though he isn’t necessarily trying to differentiate himself—and that’s why it works. He simply wants to show you the world as he sees it.
He viewed Purpose Tour as the perfect opportunity to get all of the travelling done and shoot places on his bucket list without having to worry about travel expenses. When asked to single out his favourite place in the world to shoot, he can’t choose.
“I feel like anything, whether it’s tour, or anything in general, I feel like travelling is just inspirational,” he says. “Seeing new places, new people, new cultures, just stepping outside of the box that maybe is your city or even your state. Just going from state to state in America is pretty interesting, too, but especially being in India right now and just seeing—there’s people on the street that have no shoes, trying to get food. Just food. And then you can turn the corner and walk into a Starbucks, and it’s fully air conditioned, and there’s rich people in there. But you can literally walk outside, and there’s people begging for food. Just seeing that is so crazy because, it’s like, we have poor in America, but America poor is not like other-country poor. Not even close. It’s unbelievably different. And I just feel like that’s really eye-opening and that eye-opening experience translates through your work because it’s just in your mind when you’re shooting.”
Taking and posting photos of Bieber has given Cordova a larger Instagram following, but Instagram followers certainly isn’t his end game.
“I feel like it’s definitely helped me gain a bigger following,” he says. “I used to have like 3,000-something followers, and I was getting roughly around the same amount of likes. And then, Justin posted one of my pictures and tagged me on his Instagram, and then I woke up with 7,000 more followers. But my like ratio didn’t increase at all.”
He continues: “If I post a Justin Bieber photo? Whew, 2,000 likes. But then if I post something that’s like a really dope photo, but it’s not Justin Bieber-related, I get no love. I was like, ‘Damn!’ You know? Kind of got me frustrated. But I don’t really care about that because what I’m trying to do more is just take pictures of my friends who are dope, which dope people follow them, too, so I want those people to see it through my friends. Not necessarily like have a lot of followers. I feel like I’ve always been the person where I was never the one to have a lot followers and be out there like that, but I always know the people. I’m always cool with the people to know. I feel like I’ve just been trying to finesse it like that.”
The 2017 leg of Purpose Tour, Purpose Tour Stadiums, ends on September 6 in Toronto. But Cordova is working on his first photography book, to be titled One, with horizontal and vertical versions featuring mostly photos he has taken while on tour around the world. He plans to pursue photography for the next five years and hopes to make it through solely photography rather than having to have a career as a stuntman to support himself.
“In 100 percent honesty, I get more juice shooting photos than I get on stage,” he says. “When I’m behind the camera and see the shot I really want, like, I don’t know, everything just fades away from me.”
Cover photo by Eshaan George.
Words by Megan Armstrong