Kennedi Carter’s career reached new heights in 2020 when she photographedBeyoncé for the December coverof British Vogue. At the age of 21, Carter made history as the youngest person to shoot the publication’s cover. Viewing her art as an outlet for personal expression, the North Carolina–based photographer now only takes on passion projects. Her vulnerable imagery is filtered through Carter’s own life experiences and often informed by her southern upbringing. With a portfolio that now includes fashion editorials in Glamour and fine art photos inVanity Fair, Carteris focused on the next phase of her artistic journey, one that she hopes will include a rich personal life outside of her career. Below, she describes just how the opportunity with Beyoncé altered her life.
My British Vogue cover was definitely the moment everything changed. I was doing a lot of work in North Carolina primarily. I would get assignments, but they were jobs rather than [large-scale] productions. And I’d just say “okay, I’m taking what I can get.” I’d fund and execute my own [fine art] personal work on the side when I had time. So when I received the opportunity to shoot Beyoncé, that’s when I knew that there was going to be a major shift in my professional life.
I didn’t always have the financial ability to be as picky as I wanted to be, but now I have some of that freedom. And I still continue to do a lot of journalism jobs, but only ones where the story speaks to me in particular.
I started photography when I was in high school. I knew it was something that I wanted to do, but I was just always so scared that it wouldn’t be a lucrative thing for me, given the fact that I’m based in the South. It required me to believe in myself. I didn’t have direct inspiration, just trust in the process.
Every photograph that we see is in some way telling a story, or at least pushing a narrative. Once I realized that, that’s when I wanted to become more intentional about the projects that I took on [and focus on artistic photography]. I would get a lot of jobs from TheNew York Times, but they would be jobs like covering the reality of the aftermath of a hurricane. So when the British Vogue shoot came out, that’s what kind of perked people’s ears up to give me more opportunities to do fashion-related work. Fashion photography and photo journalism is great, but I found that in the long-term I see myself going down the fine art route.
I’m proud of the fact that I get to be picky now. But is there a particular project that I’m super-proud of, as to what will be the biggest part of my visual legacy? I haven’t had that yet.
When I think about all the artists that we look up to now, particularly Black ones, we did not have the access to them that we do now [through social media]. We only know them through their work and through their writings. Now I’m searching for that same barrier between the art, the artist, and the public. I want room to be able to consciously evolve into the human that I’m meant to be, outside of my work. That’s what I would like. And I think that’s what I would like my “signature” to be.