Kennedi Carter photographs famous people all over the world for major publications, but it’s her intimate portraits depicting unknown beauties of the Black experience that the viewer may find most moving.
by Sharon Smith
On a recent Tuesday night, Kennedi Carter takes questions about her exhibit, Sight Unseen, on view at the Harvey B. Gantt Center in uptown Charlotte. The Durham native is comfortably dressed in a black graphic tee, her hair up, glasses on for this virtual artist talk. Her words have a soft lyrical cadence as she talks about the collection — even as her toddler, Atlas, can be heard in the background with the kind of typical chatter that every parent knows and understands.
It’s an authentic snapshot of the artist that aligns with the messaging of her work. Carter primarily focuses on the overlooked beauty of the Black experience — those quiet moments often “unseen” by society. While she’s known for landing the British Vogue cover of Beyoncé in 2020 when she was just 21, Carter seems most deeply connected to her work depicting regular people.
Kennedi Carter, Silas, 2020, archival pigment print. Photographs courtesy of the artist and ROSEGALLERY, Santa Monica, California
Among the collection is a series of photographs showing Black men riding and taking care of horses. One of the men, Silas, wears a Gucci belt and black tank top. She loves his unexpected urban styling in a pastoral setting. “They’re doing it for the joy that comes from it,” Carter says, adding that she was drawn to how the men interacted with the horses.
In “Jaelle II,” Carter shows a little girl holding a pinwheel while facing a clothesline with bed sheets — the stillness, almost begging for a gust of wind.
Carter aims to depict these scenes without judgment or preconceived notions of worth. “At the forefront is the layered beauty of life itself — authentic, intimate, open and complex,” says Leandra-Juliet Kelley, curator of the Gantt exhibit. “Carter’s photography offers mental and emotional touchpoints for viewers, allowing them to reflect on their own lives.”
They are touchpoints of reflection for Carter, too. “A lot of times, we feel we need to smile for a photograph and not just to be. I think that’s one of the many things photography has revealed to me,” Carter says. SP
Kennedi Carter’s works are on view through January 15, 2024 at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.
Featured image: Kennedi Carter, Jaelle II, 2020, archival pigment print. Photographs courtesy of the artist and ROSEGALLERY, Santa Monica, California