Kennedi Carter–Photography’s Phenomenal Phenom

Kennedi Carter | In episode 81 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks with a young photographer with a lot of professional accolades including a cover shot of Beyoncé for British Vogue 

It’s extremely rare for a 21 year-old of any race or gender to shoot the cover of a fashion magazine such as British Vogue, especially when it’s Beyonce on the other side of the lens.  Carter still doesn’t quite know how she came to be one of our era’s most sought-after photographers, but we kick some theories around. We talk about her love of the south, black cowboys, personal v commercial work and, of course, The Queen Beyonce. 

 

Read Transcript

Q&A

 

David: [00:00:25] 

Kennedi Carter is a phenom. It’s hard to describe her in any other way. In the arts, in photography specifically, it’s extremely rare for a twenty-one-year-old of any color or sexual persuasion to land such a prime assignment as shooting Beyonce for the cover of British Vogue, but such are the times we live in today. The disruption of business as usual and the heightened sensitivity to social and sexual injustice have forced some changes to the power grid of culture’s upper echelon. British Vogue is edited by Edward Enninful, himself a phenom, its first gay editor and the youngest ever fashion director of ID Magazine when he was only eighteen. So it was a match made in phenom heaven. A southerner by birth and emotional attachment, her goal – she has been quoted as saying – is to create timeless work that echoes the South and the experiences she’s had there. Welcome, Kennedi Carter.

 

Kennedi: [00:01:29] 

Hi. Thank you for having me.

 

David: [00:01:31] 

Yeah, thank you for being on. How does being a southerner and your attachment and appreciation for the South line up with your cover shoot with Beyonce? She’s southern herself, and you live in Dallas where she grew up. Did that make you instant BFFs?

 

Kennedi: [00:01:48] 

I actually live in North Carolina. All of my maternal family lives in Dallas, Texas and Houston. So, it didn’t necessarily make us best friends, but, I guess we had a bit of that in common, which was probably an influence as to why I received the gig.

 

David: [00:02:10] 

Oh, you think so?

 

Kennedi: [00:02:11] 

Mhm.

 

David: [00:02:11] 

That because you had that southern roots and Dallas connection.

 

Kennedi: [00:02:15] 

Mhm. Yeah, I think so.

 

David: [00:02:15] 

I’m sure there must have been other reasons. What is the secret? How did you get the attention of all these people who get involved when such a decision is being made?

 

Kennedi: [00:02:30] 

I’m not entirely sure. I think it came about maybe last year, when one of the photo editors contacted me through DM and asked me to send over a PDF of my portfolio. And I sent that over maybe, I don’t even think it was in June, I think it was a little earlier in quarantine. So it was around July when I received an email asking if I’d like to do a shoot for them, the context was a bit elusive, they weren’t giving me a straight answer. So I kind of put two and two together in regards to people that have the power to choose who’s going to photograph them. And so I kind of figured it might have been her, and I got my hopes up, and then I ended up being right, so.

 

David: [00:03:17] 

But you still have no idea how she saw you or found you or connected with you?

 

Kennedi: [00:03:23] 

I believe what happened is they got these portfolios together, received portfolios from numerous people, and then presented her with the portfolios of various artists. And then she ended up choosing me.

 

David: [00:03:39] 

And what was in your portfolio? What kind of work do you have in there?

 

Kennedi: [00:03:43] 

It was a lot of personal work. At the time, I was doing just assignments that came- that I came across when I was in North Carolina, and oftentimes it would be stuff for the New York Times I’d shot a few things, off and on, but I’d never done anything that was editorial. Most of my work that, I guess, was the most, not necessarily provocative, but I guess like eye catching, were the ones I was doing on my own. So I think that’s what they presented her with.

 

David: [00:04:14] 

Which is interesting because, the shoot itself for the cover of a major magazine is anything but your own work.

 

You become very much a collaborator with the artist, with the art director, with the creative director, stylist, god knows what else. Makeup artists. Everyone somehow has a little bit in it, a piece of that. Was that comfortable for you as well?

 

Kennedi: [00:04:41] 

It was very new. I was used to just working alone and developing an idea by myself, and not really having any outside influence. So I think just having to, I guess, communicate an idea or what I was picturing in my head was very new to someone else and for someone else. So it was just an interesting experience. And I worked heavily with Kwasi, her art director, and he was a big help in, um, just helping me figure out how to flesh out a concept and make an idea flow well within an editorial.

 

David: [00:05:20] 

Would you do it the same way again if you had to do it over?

 

Kennedi: [00:05:24] 

Hm. I think I would. I think we had anticipated the shoot looking a certain way, and then it took a new life, um, it took on a new life the more we progressed. It went against the grain of our initial mood board a little bit.

 

David: [00:05:46] 

If you were shooting her as a personal work, have you thought about how you would present her if she just said, “Do a portrait of me. Whatever you want.”

 

Kennedi: [00:05:58] 

Hm… I’m trying to think. I feel like she’s done so many things, I love pinup portraits. I think that’s a big thing that I’m starting to do more in work. But the more I look at the shoot, the more that I see the influence of pinup, especially within that first cover photograph, and the one with her leg sticking up and she’s in that Mugler bodysuit. It’s just so sensual, I don’t know, it’s something that I’m proud to have within my portfolio. I worked on a project called The Flex, and it was heavily influenced by Elizabethan-style portraits, and I was thinking maybe it could be cool to do something of her like that or, um, just as like a family portrait. But she has a project that was kind of similar when she, released a song, or released an album, and it was called- the song was like I’ve Been On, and so she had that super monarch, kind of queenly look already.

 

David: [00:07:04] 

The queen. The queen. We know, right?

 

Kennedi: [00:07:06] 

The queen, yeah. But she was wearing- Mhm?

 

David: [00:07:09] 

Which is why I was curious to see if you would want to put her in some kind of situation that was not the way people usually see her. Anyway, curious to see how you might have approached it if it was just purely creative without everything that goes with a cover shoot. Is that something you would like to do more of, or do you want to stay more with your personal work?

 

Kennedi: [00:07:38] 

I’ve just been doing a mix of a lot of things. I’ve been dipping in and out of editorial stuff and commercial stuff, as well as doing my own thing personal work cause that’s getting funded as well. So I feel like my work is a bit all over the place, in terms of subject matter, but there’s this common vein that courses throughout it that’s kind of rooted in I guess like black subjects, as well as stories that I’m just really interest in, in general.

 

David: [00:08:07] 

So you mentioned black subjects, that is your preference are you limited in your own thinking by only wanting to address that subject, black subjects? Or would you shoot other people if asked, as well?

 

Kennedi: [00:08:26] 

I think within my personal work, I’m more rooted in black subjects, due to I guess relatability and as well as I think southern culture as well. I don’t think I’ll just limit myself to black subjects in general, but it’s something that I’m definitely attracted to, I guess, moreso because of common experience. But I think editorially and just people that I’d like to shoot with in general, if a story is really cool or it’s a person that I’m interested in, I’d want to do it.

 

David: [00:09:01] 

Would you shoot Donald Trump’s photo, portrait? [laughter] You- you wouldn’t?

 

Kennedi: [00:09:09] 

Mm-mm.

 

David: [00:09:09] 

It’s interesting, cause I remember there was that series of photos that Avedon took with black and white, with all of the basic power figures. I think it was for the New Yorker, it was very powerful. But I remember when I saw that and felt so betrayed that these military figures that were killers in many respects, or ordered the killings of anonymous people were given this treatment by a photographer such as Avedon, shot in this beautiful white background, you know how he does it.

 

Kennedi: [00:09:46] 

It’s a bit strange, cause I feel like sometimes I personally wouldn’t do it, but when thinking about other photographers that have photographed people like Donald Trump or these people that have just a- a bad or like a legacy that doesn’t really age well, it’s interesting to think about how – not necessarily they need to be documented too, but I think in order to look back and move forward, we need to think about the people that aren’t the best and be able to witness them as who they were, and document them as who they were, cause they can be trash too. 

 

David: [00:10:27] 

Right. Cause it’s, you know, people are obsessed by the bad guys as well as the good guys. So, you know, those pictures are- are probably gonna be with us for way too long.

 

Kennedi: [00:10:38] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:10:38] 

You know, in the same way we look back at some, you know, horrors, creatures of the past, uh, today and, you know, they’re still very much in our lives. But when it comes to fashion, fashion photographer, do you consider yourself that as well, or is that just a coincidence of circumstances? Have you ever thought about shooting fashion before?

 

Kennedi: [00:11:02] 

I think about it at times. I think I’m more attracted to how things age and how we’ll look at things fifty years from now. And I think fashion is something that is always looked at years and years, um, I guess like after the game or after things have passed. And it’s also something that people return back to. So I don’t know, I think fashion is interesting in the idea that it’s something that repeats itself, and people find inspiration in it years from now. I don’t think I’d necessarily consider myself a fashion photographer, cause I just like photographing anything and anyone, but I really like doing fashion photography for that reason.

 

David: [00:11:43] 

Especially in the black culture when you look back, because so much of it was not really represented and when you look at fashion, Harlem back in the days you were referring to old things, and how people used to look, obviously great, beautiful looks there that continue to this day, to say the least. Fashion has been such a big component of black culture throughout history.

 

Kennedi: [00:12:13] 

It has. Mhm.

 

David: [00:12:15] 

But it’s not that well represented to the public because magazines like Vogue never really, you know, let it be seen.

 

Kennedi: [00:12:25] 

Mhm. Yeah.

 

David: [00:12:27] 

Being thrown into the limelight at such a young age, knowing you’re going to be overpraised and hyper criticized at the same time, how does that, you know, suit you? Are you rolling with the punches? Do you get all worked up about things obviously, it’s put you in the spotlight.

 

Kennedi: [00:12:50] 

I think I mainly just roll with it. I’m based in North Carolina, so I’m not in a huge city and I’m surrounded by people that I care about and people that inspire me. I think I value their opinions more than anyone else, and I think that’s really helpful.

 

David: [00:13:07] 

Well there’s also social media, so you can’t really ignore- I don’t know what kind of comments or what you’re exposed to in that world. Has that been kind?

 

Kennedi: [00:13:18] 

Yeah, it’s been pretty kind. I’ve been weaning myself off of my socials. When it comes to Twitter, I’m only on Twitter just to laugh and look at funny stuff. But on Instagram, I’ll post every now and then, mainly just for work. But, I haven’t really witnessed anything that was mean or anything. I’ve seen a lot of photographers these days getting just ripped to shreds over various shoots. And oftentimes, folks don’t really have as much, photographers especially, don’t have as much control over the outcome as most people would think. So I try not to speak too much on what other people are making, mainly cause I really feel like you reap what you sow, so I’m not trying to stir up any bad juju. [laughter]

 

David: [00:14:05] 

In North Carolina. You know, recently Juergen Teller had one of those social media explosions where he shot celebrities I assume intentionally, because he knows what he’s doing, sort of making them look bad, or cliched Instagram photos that teenagers or middle school kids might take. Have you seen any of that are you up on any of that stuff?

 

Kennedi: [00:14:38] 

Yeah. I mean, some of them tweets have actually been a little funny.

 

David: [00:14:43] 

Yeah.

 

Kennedi: [00:14:43] 

But yeah, I think there’s criticism and then there’s like just… I don’t know, I guess. There’s like a weird, fine line, almost, between critique and just being mean. But there’s also this line that people teeter where it’s super hilarious as well. I’ve been seeing some funny stuff. I feel like he probably would’ve laughed at a few of them.

 

David: [00:15:15] 

Oh definitely. I feel like he’s probably laughing all the way, because he’s aware enough to know that he’s playing with this whole format and doing satire at the same time. He’s known for adding content to his photos in some ways, psychological, at least, content even it may not be visible. So it seems very much in line with what he’s been doing over the years as well.

 

Kennedi: [00:15:45] 

Mhm.

 

David: [00:15:46] 

So being this celebrity or, you know, on your way up, like phenom that I called you.

 

Kennedi: [00:15:51] 

Oh lord.

 

David: [00:15:52] 

[laughs[ But I feel like it’s like a kid out of high school who breaks into the NBA and is suddenly like a superstar. You know, there is that kind of component, when someone like you- You’re still in school correct? Aren’t you still in college even?

 

Kennedi: [00:16:10] 

I ended up leaving for this semester. So I’m gonna return at some point, but stuff was getting too crazy and I need to, I guess, like to figure out everything.

 

David: [00:16:21] 

When you have this position in this society, you have power you’re using for your public profile to advance various causes, you have things that you believe in that are important for our culture to recognize and deal with. So that has become an added burden, or not burden, I don’t know how you would look at it as part of your work. You’re not just taking pretty pictures, right? There’s something more to them, that you want to say something about the world we’re in.

 

Kennedi: [00:16:58] 

Yeah. I think it’s not necessarily a burden, it’s just something that I sometimes just feel drawn to do. I think part of photography and the invention of it was just to photograph life around us. And I think part of life is witnessing the things that other people have to go through. And I mean you can either fit in and pretend it doesn’t happen or I guess maybe even if you feel called to document it, document, but also maybe be a voice for it and say something about it, or use your art to just help someone, I think is something that’s really important.

 

David: [00:17:41] 

And when did you feel like you were a photographer? What made you want to move in that direciton?

 

Kennedi: [00:17:49] 

I started back when I was in high school, and I was taking a photo course. Our high school was one of, I guess, like two in the county that actually had a dark room. So I started out maybe in 2017 shooting with the Canon AE1 and yeah, we were just shooting, and I thought it was a course that I could fly through. And I wasn’t. And I ended up liking it a lot. So I went to college for it for a bit, and I was doing some work there, and I took off my gap year. I took off a gap year last year, and then that’s when more work started flowing through and happening.

 

David: [00:18:30] 

And did you have support from your family to go in this direction, was that all easy as well?

 

Kennedi: [00:18:36] 

Yeah. My family was pretty supporting. My dad, he’s still very adamant about me finishing school. Even when I got the shoots that I’ve gotten, he’s like, “Okay, but are you gonna return to school?”

 

David: [00:18:47] 

[laughs] Oh, no kidding.

 

Kennedi: [00:18:48] 

So yeah.

 

David: [00:18:49] 

Did you tell him, “School? Don’t need it, dad.”

 

Kennedi: [00:18:52] 

I feel like I’m gonna complete it at some point. It’s just school is one of things you have to submit yourself to study, and at this point I can’t see myself fully, honestly, like just fully submitting myself until I’m more settled down. And I think things either calm down or I want them to calm down and I’m ready to start school again.

 

David: [00:19:16] 

Yeah, I can see that. Especially wanting them to- to calm down, and using that as a way to give yourself some distance, and think a few things through a little bit more. So when did you first know what your subject would be? Blackness, women, gender were going to be the subject of your work, if- if that’s a fair assessment.

 

Kennedi: [00:19:40] 

I think it wasn’t until maybe two years ago. I feel as though when I first started, I was kind of aimlessly taking photographs. And I don’t even think that’s necessarily a bad thing. You have to just shoot whatever until you find what you’re drawn to the most. And… I’m trying to think. I- I think maybe just about two years, and I did a shoot, um, that- Yeah, I did a shoot and when I did this shoot, I was almost, I guess, at the point where I was like, “Yeah, I think I’m kind of over photography and I’m about to stop, and yada-yada-yada.” But I did, um, a shoot and I had started experimenting with medium-format photography and I had shot what it is that I had shot, and I really liked how the images came out. In fact, I had lost the negatives for quite some time, because my room was a mess, they fell behind my bed and then maybe like three months later I found the negatives, I got them processed and I felt like that’s what I wanted my work to look like within this set of photographs. So-

 

David: [00:20:47] 

What were those photographs of?

 

Kennedi: [00:20:50] 

I can send you the image. But it’s of a woman, and the lighting is super dark. I honestly don’t even know how I was able to meter it well. But the lighting was super dark, and she has this earring that has a face. I also paired her up with a guy in the photograph as well. So I really liked that dynamic. They didn’t really know each other, but there was this intimacy between them that I thought was really great. So after I received that set of photographs back from my processor, it kind of was a game changer, in terms of what I wanted my stuff to look like.

 

David: [00:21:28] 

That gave you the focus that enabled you, you saw a path that could keep you engaged in photography. Was that also around for the whole Black Lives Matter, moment, starting to percolate? And did that have any impact on you as well, as far as going out and shooting in the street or wanting to document any of that?

 

Kennedi: [00:21:52] 

Not necessarily. I feel like for a while, especially within my circles Black Lives Matter had been or just not even Black Lives Matter, just the topic of blackness and violence against black folks in the United States had been just a topic of discussion for a very long time. I think the first I truly remember was around the time of the death of Trayvon Martin. So it wasn’t necessarily something that was new to me. I kind of was always familiar with it, even at a young age. There was this level of intensity, last year especially, given the fact we were in the middle of a pandemic and this is still happening, and we have no choice but to pay attention to it because we’re all inside. I think that just added a- a level of feeling drawn to do something or say something especially. I just noticed a lot of folks willing to just sell their work, just sell their work and donate the proceeds, people just willing to do something. Which I thought was really great. And I felt the need to participate as well.

 

David: [00:23:14] 

Which brings me to a subject that I actually had in mind here, which is a community of black creatives. It seems to me, just from my vantage point, which is not in the middle of anything really, it’s on the outside of a lot of things, but on the periphery, that there is a community among black creatives that I don’t really see equivalence of elsewhere. Everyone has friends here and there, whatever, if they’re in music or art and things like that. But the collective energy of the black community creatives, especially right now, seems to be very powerful. Is that something you feel as well?

 

Kennedi: [00:23:55] 

I think people really underestimate the power of community and power in people. I think that’s something that I’ve witnessed so much with my peers. It’s crazy because oftentimes, especially with photography jobs and commercial gigs especially, we’re bid against each other. I’ve had jobs that were given to people that I’m super close with, and I’m just glad that it went to them, you know? I have questions that I’ll ask my peers and they’ll openly answer them. I talk about Dana Scruggs quite often because when I was first starting, I guess, more the commercial or like editorial portion of photography, I had no clue what I was doing, I also was not hitting like pounding the pavement in New York or LA. And so when there was someone that I wanted to get in contact with, she would shoot them an email and introduce me and CC me. And so she’d just do things like that, and you have to just pay it forward. There’s even people in North Carolina that if I really like their work and I can’t take something, I’ll put them on an editor’s radar that I really appreciate. So, that’s pretty much, I think… just how the people that I’m close to, or the people that are making work right now, I think that’s just how they move, they pay it forward.

 

David: [00:25:23] 

Yeah, that’s amazing. Especially since we know of the one black star that’s allowed to be, expressed at any one time. So there’s one, you know, “Oh, we already have X.” You know, that person. “So we can’t- you can’t also be a super star.” That was sort of how things were for a very long time. And now I definitely feel that that structure is at least being shaken, if not damaged to the core, cause, there’s just so much amazing talent there, which is, bursting and ready to take its moment.

 

Kennedi: [00:26:05] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:26:07] 

Uh. One of the guests that I’ve had here earlier is Micaiah Carter, who was on my show.

 

Kennedi: [00:26:13]

Oh yeah, he’s great.

 

David: [00:26:14] 

I know you guys know each other. And you worked with him on the See in Black Collective, during the uprising, when that was going on. To address the systemic oppression, and that caused some kind of conflict within the museum world and the nature of how artists are treated, even when supposedly trying to help them. 

 

Kennedi: [00:26:50] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:26:50] 

Okay, we’re gonna give you a break, but… Could you talk about that a little bit, of what happened there?

 

Kennedi: [00:26:56] 

I think the issue is moreso, the institution that acquired the work was one that had the funds to buy it at the full price, um, from the artists. But they chose not to. Granted, the proceeds were going somewhere, they bought them for a hundred dollars, and they had the money to buy them full price. And then they didn’t really ask for permission, they just said that they were gonna do it. It was a bit of a mess. It ended up being resolved but, yeah, it was just messy.

 

David: [00:27:47] 

In the art world right now, there’s lots of comments and protests, demonstrations even, about the nature of the institutions of the art world, from the galleries to collectors to museums, who they are, where they’re money comes from, how they try to wash it basically through art world donations, and becoming collectors of big artists and basically giving the financial drive to the whole art world. And you have artists like Nan Goldin, for example, who became very activist herself and basically has given up photography, as far as I can tell, because of her activism. She was mostly directing her attention against the Sacklers and the opioids epidemic and- and their connection to the Metropolitan Museum. But now we see this spreading to, MoMa to LACMA to everywhere pretty much. Does that put artists today, and you- I’m asking you to speak for all artists, but, you know, not really. You know, put you in an awkward position because you want to be successful, you want to make money, yet at the same time you’re often forced to deal with these people that you really don’t want to have anything to do with.

 

Kennedi: [00:29:19] 

At least for me, I think I can only speak for myself, but it puts me in this like almost weird position where I want to be able to live, I want to be able to afford an apartment and eat and make the work that I make, cause it’s not that I just just don’t know anything else, but it’s like this is what I feel called to do.

 

David: [00:29:44] 

That’s who you are, yeah.

 

Kennedi: [00:29:45] 

And so you have to either work with these institutions or found new ones, but at the moment, that’s not necessarily what I want to do. So I don’t know, it’s- it’s a bit difficult. But I think the interesting part of the community that I’m a part of, now especially, there were times back in the ’70s or the ’80s or even the ’90s that artists would’ve been silenced or they felt like they wouldn’t have been able to say anything and they would have been black balled. But now since you’re so connected to everyone and you’re able to- even through just social media, there’s power in numbers and being a community. So having that community of artists, and just being one voice and coaxing the voice of others to say something as well and stand in solidarity, I think that was something that played in our favor and set a precedent so it won’t happen again. I think that’s the best part of- of what came out of that, it set a precedent so no one does that again.

 

David: [00:31:03] 

Well I was just gonna say, traditionally where workers, you know, let’s say looking at you as workers, you know, go to unions or organizations so they don’t have to be individuals fighting the power collectively have a lot more power than they would on their own. And today, maybe that role is being taken by social media, for example.

 

Kennedi: [00:31:26] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:31:27] 

Where, you know, if there is an outrage, there’s a way for many people to express themselves, they become trending listed and repeated and over and over. So the message probably gets out a lot better today than it ever did before.

 

Kennedi: [00:31:44] 

Mhm. It’s like a new form of accountability.

 

David: [00:31:51] 

Yeah, accountability is a good word for all of this. To me, it’s already so difficult to be an artist in the sense that if you’re in a gallery system, you know, you’re looking for that one person that’s gonna want your piece, that’s trying to find a needle in a haystack for an artist, even if they can find a gallery. The odds are so much stacked against them to begin with that, uh, you know, to put more reasons not to do something, problems with the gallery or the buyer. If somebody comes to you and says, “I’m gonna give you all this money, but I also happen to be a Trump supporter.” I don’t know what I would do. It’s just hard. We know- we had, uh, Richard Prince, for example, try to de-accession his piece that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had purchased from him before they went to Washington. And he was so outraged that they would use that in order to show how supportive they were of artists and liberal causes at that time, that he withdrew his piece from their collection… Do you feel that those kind of gestures are meaningful in any way? 

 

Kennedi: [00:33:16] 

It’s strange. I think it varies from person to person and just, I mean, I think- Yeah, I think just a person’s conscience, just it varies. And if that’s what you feel like you need to do then go ahead, do what you gotta do. But, I think that’s the cool thing about just making work and having a hand in knowing who’s going to buy it and acquire it, and being able to just know where exactly you’re receiving your money from is a really interesting thing.

 

David: [00:33:55] 

And what about your friends? Because you are young and the generation, uh, still coming up for the most part. How do they feel today, if you could generalize. Is it optimism about what’s up, what’s coming ahead, because they’ve made so much progress? Or is like, “Oh, we still have such a long way to go. I don’t know what I can do.”

 

Kennedi: [00:34:20] 

I don’t know exactly if I can speak for them. But I feel that just viewing so much success with black photographers, it’s a really cool thing. I just remember being seventeen and looking for fashion photographers that existed when I was in high school and it was very- there was a very small amount. I couldn’t find anybody. And so now I’m able to list all these people off the top of my head, which is just such a great thing. And I think, personally, I somehow have this weird small bit of anxiety a little bit, because sometimes when I see things like this, I’m like, “Man, I’m scared it’s gonna be taken away.” I think that’s just quite often what I’m almost used to. Maybe just from my experience or from the things that I’ve witnessed being an African American, I think I’ve seen so many things look like they’re gonna play in my favor and they get snatched away. So I’m hoping and I’m praying that this is something that continues and the doors stay open, and it just continues.

 

David: [00:35:31] 

Right. Because when you look around, for me, you know, I’m older, I’ve been around, I’ve paid attention and read and followed culture, and seen today that there’s this huge renaissance, as far as I’m concerned, with regard to black culture. You could see it in writing, in painting, certainly it’s in music, it’s been around forever, photography, whatever, sports. You know, it just seems like it’s overwhelming in a good way, as far as I’m concerned, that, you know, this is a- a moment. That doesn’t mean it’s gonna be like that forever, because hopefully it won’t have to be a thing in the way it is now, as it becomes more accepted and integrated into society as is. But do you feel that as well with regard to the other arts? Filmmaking, I should add as well.

 

Kennedi: [00:36:27] 

Yeah, I just think there’s an amazing influx of just black art that’s being funded and pushed forward, and it’s also just great because the- the work is great.

 

David: [00:36:39] 

Yeah.

 

Kennedi: [00:36:39] 

It’s great work. The photography’s great, the art is great, there’s so many great things that are just being pushed forward at the moment.

 

David: [00:36:48] 

You have talked about the South as being especially important to you. What is it about the South that, you know, because we know Civil War, the South, racism, all the terrible things that’s kind of still their brand. Certainly in the East Coast where I am, we always think we were the- we were good, they were bad. Even though it’s not exactly how that was, we know. But that’s generally still the impression. The South is the racist South. You still feel that’s your home, or what is your attachment, what does it connect with?

 

Kennedi: [00:37:26] 

I think there’s this energy that I’ve witnessed for so long, and even historically this need within the black communities down here to form their own cultures and overall prevail, and just find things that make them happy. Sometimes, especially with the cowboys that I shoot with- and the people down here, they just find these air bubbles where they’re able to find happiness within their hobbies or the things that they love to do. I just think that’s so beautiful, this need to find solace. And I think that’s just something that I witnessed so many times in the South, and I think that’s what I love finding and photographing the most. For example, I shoot with cowboys a lot, but on horses- they’re not necessarily something that’s needed anymore, cause there’s cars now. But people just do it because it makes them happy. There’s music- And I mean, granted, people are making music all over the place but something that I’m so intrigued by is southern rap, in particular, but there’s just something that’s so interesting about people just doing the things that they love because it makes them happy. And it distracts them from the things that are going on around them. I think even historically that’s something that went on in the South, and it’s something that continues now.

 

David: [00:38:56] 

What’s southern rap? What does that sound like, how is it different?

 

Kennedi: [00:39:01] 

It sounds just a bit slower. It’s like people take their time with what they want to say, and just the rap scene down here, especially in Texas, it’s like slow and it makes you almost hold on to every word a little bit, and you’re anticipating the next thing that they’re gonna say. I love southern rap. It’s really great.

 

David: [00:39:20] 

In the past, people would have to leave the South in order to pursue their artistic passions. For example, you know, going to Chicago for the blues music, jazz was a migration to Los Angeles and other migration of musicians from the South, uh, the East Coast even. A huge migration. So the southern migration out of the South, to escape the South, really fueled a lot of the culture of the rest of the country because people got out of the regional situation where they could actually be seen. And it’s really a problem throughout the world for people in cities that are not major media or entertainment centers, or creative centers, because the talent leaves, because they have to go to London from, Nigeria or from the Caribbean or wherever else they may go, because they want to make clothes, or they want to make music, or they want to make art. So do you feel it’s possible today to stay in the South, in smaller markets, and still be able to make that kind of impact?

 

Kennedi: [00:40:36] 

Yeah. I think there’s something- Especially within this digital era, you don’t have to pound the pavement anymore, especially with photography. I remember hearing about photographers, back in like the ’90s and ’70s, and just before things were digital, having to make handprints, put it in a portfolio, give it to editors, often the editors sometimes throw it away.

 

David: [00:41:05] 

Hello, yeah. They would come back-

 

Kennedi: [00:41:05] 

And you don’t-

 

David: [00:41:07] 

Even at Paper Magazine, you know, where I was for many years, that’s what we did. You know, photographers would drop off their portfolio and, you know, eventually somebody would look at it, sometimes they would meet with them, most often they wouldn’t get very much comment. Sometimes they would even get lost. And yes, they would have to make prints. I’m sure it’s much easier now for all of that.

 

Kennedi: [00:41:31] 

I’m doing handprints now and I’m sure they’re way more expensive than they were back then, they range around like sixty-five dollars a print now. I don’t know. I couldn’t imagine. So now that everything is more digital, you can pound the pavement through email and just hit up editors through their emails, and it’s possible to just do the things you want now. I’ve witnessed so many artists do what, for so long, we thought was not possible. You can make work here, you can have a family, and then actually be successful and not have to sacrifice everything. If you want to have a family, you- I’ve just seen so many things.

 

David: [00:42:13] 

So just, end up with one final question because, you know, we had been wanting to talk and had to reschedule several times. You’re very busy right now. So could you tell us what you’re working on?

 

Kennedi: [00:42:29] 

I’m working on- I’ll tell you about personal work, I don’t want to get in trouble talking about other stuff.

 

David: [00:42:34] 

Okay.

 

Kennedi: [00:42:36] 

I’m working with cowboys at the moment again. I was able to get my project funded, so it’ll be in National Geographic later in the year.

 

David: [00:42:44] 

Oh wow. That’s fantastic.

 

Kennedi: [00:42:47] 

Yeah, so I’m excited. It’ll be like a little spread, and I’m able to make new work for it. And then, I’m working on WeTransfer and hoping to put that project together too. It’ll a- a new body of work. And then I’m also trying to get my project Flex, that’s up at a museum now called CAM Raleigh they’re like Elizabethan-style portraits but I’m wanting to do them with rappers I think. I think it’s interesting to see more rappers in those super just king, queen-style old master portraits. That could be really interesting. So yeah, that’s kind of what I’m thinking.

 

David: [00:43:28] 

Beautiful. Well thank you so much, Kennedi Carter, for being on my show today. Really enjoyed our conversation.

 

Kennedi: [00:43:36] 

Thanks for having me.

 

End

 

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