Micaiah Carter’s ‘American Black Beauty Vol. One’ Photos Are Personal and Cheerful

Editorial photography and fashion photography are often described as being at odds with each other, as if appreciating one meant it was impossible to understand the other. Obviously, the photographers of each other borrow a lot from the other, but the myth has persisted nonetheless. A recent personal project by Micaiah Carter shows how by combining elements of each, you can elevate everything in your work.

Carter is the kind of photographer who somehow makes Pharrell and Taraji P.Henson feeling like cool kids who stumbled into her backyard and did a fashion shoot. Part of the much-loved New Black Vanguard, he already boasts an enviable celebrity portfolio and has worked with major brands.

After the death of his father, who was a major influence on his early work, Carter turned his camera to his family for the first time. He used his background in fashion to create a space where intimate scenes could take place, not exactly exactly, but not posed either. Usually based in New York, Carter spent time during the pandemic in his California hometown, staying in a rented house similar to the one he grew up in. The resulting photos examine the quiet moments of joy in black family life, mixed with some of her bolder fashion work. They are now displayed in American Black Beauty Vol. 1, his first personal exhibition in New York. Carter took the time to talk to us in a phone interview about the performance, her father, and what it’s like to be home.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Let’s start at the beginning, tell me about your dad and tell me about this project.

When he passed away, I just wanted to get back to my job and connect more with my family. I also think I wanted to connect with my younger self. That was a big part of what I did, photographing my nieces, nephews, and brothers, because I never really spent that much time with them growing up. It gave me a chance to process what I was going through and also to be able to be creative with them, which was new.

A lot of the work I did before was fashion work, but it was inspired by my dad. I wanted to combine the new fashion work I had created in her honor, but also combine the more personal work.

Was it your father who introduced you to photography?

Type of. It was half because of him and half because I grew up on social media. There, I was able to see images that I’ve never been able to see where I’m from, which is a small town in California. It opened my eyes to what creativity can do with photography, especially with fashion photography.

You got good recognition for your fashion photography. You were part of the New Black Vanguard. You’ve worked with all kinds of amazing clients. Can you tell us a bit about your fashion photography and how this project is different?

It’s more personal. I didn’t think in that headspace, it reminded me of how I used to shoot in college. I just wanted to create images that didn’t just speak to me, but that I had a representation of all types of people, all types of hair textures, all types of people that I grew up with. I wanted to see more of that in these arts and crafts spaces. So I chose to go in that direction.

Can you talk about one image that you think sums up the whole project?

The picture of my brothers and my two nieces — that’s the one where I said, you know this is what i want to create. I felt like I was part of it. I felt like I was diving deep into what my connection means and celebrating my brother’s connection of being a single dad with his kids.

How did your family react when you took pictures of them?

They have supported me throughout my career. It’s kind of like a loop moment. It’s really beautiful.

Can you tell us a bit about the future you hope to see for young black children?

For them to see each other, not in a way that people assume [they should be]but what they bring to the table – from their own discoveries and their own pleasures and hobbies and really expanding the spectrum of what people think a black person or black child should be.

How did you incorporate that into your photos?

By being honest and putting myself in their shoes. I wanted it to feel like if I was them, what would I want to see? What would I be missing in my representation growing up? I think that was like the heart of it.

Will you continue to document your family in this way?

It’s like a whole new way of approaching my work, my personal work. That’s why it says “Volume 1”, because I’m going to work on it until I feel like I’ve really told the story, the whole story, that I want to tell.

Can you outline the story you want to tell?

Cherish the vision of black Americans. i came up with the name [of the project] during the George Floyd protests, and everything that happened in 2020. I almost felt a lack of black Americans being seen and showing what it’s really like in America. It made me start thinking about my nieces and my family and where my lineage came from. I want people to feel like they’re seeing themselves, or they’re seeing a part of themselves, they’re seeing a family member, just something they can relate to, that’s very honest and very straightforward.

I want them to feel at home. That’s the goal, especially for black people. I want them to feel at home and be able to relate to all the things that are common to the black American experience.

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