Photographer Kennedi Carter on Depicting the Black American Cowboy

Kennedi Carter is only 21 and she’s already made history. In November, she photographed Beyoncé for British Vogue becoming the youngest person to ever photograph the cover. From there, she’s gone on to photograph Erykah Badu and Summer Walker for Rolling Stone and Dan Levy for Bustle. Born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, Carter credits her hometown for honing her artistic eye. “I’ve grown up in the South my whole life,” she says. “So those are the stories that I gravitate towards.” She’s currently a student at North Carolina A&T and majors in African-American Studies. Though she’s already become an extremely accomplished and sought-after photographer, she only began to see photography as a viable career path last year. “I had gone to college for it a little bit and I was there for two years and then I took a gap year last year. Then I just focused on my photo work. I ended up liking it a lot and just tried to figure out how to navigate it. It ended up going pretty well.”

Her latest photo series titled “Ridin’ Sucka Free” aims to highlight Black cowboys in the South and document the connection between horsemanship and agriculture. Shot in New Orleans, the project is part of Google Pixel and LENS’ Creator Labs, an artistic incubator program that highlights emerging artists. Below, Carter discusses her artistic inspirations, how she captures authenticity, and why American cowboy culture isn’t a monolith.


“I started photography, or rather picked up a camera, when I was a sophomore in high school. I took a class and it went really well. I thought it was going to be an easy A, but it was hard. I actually had to learn it and then I ended up liking it a lot. I didn’t really find photography inspirations until maybe two years ago. I was just aimlessly making photographs at the time. But as of now, I really enjoy the painter Barkley Hendricks’ work. I always enjoyed Carrie Mae Weems‘ work. I love Deana Lawson‘s work and LaToya Ruby Frazier. There are just so many people. Even Titus Kaphar, Frida Kahlo, and Artemisia Gentileschi.”

“[‘Ridin’ Sucka Free’] is a project I started probably a year or two ago. It’s a continuation of me finding different places where Black cowboys are, shooting with them, and showing the face of cowboy culture as we know it in contemporary Americana is not a monolith. There are Black people present. That’s pretty much what the idea behind it was and I just enjoyed it a lot. I just went and I found people. I found this one boy, his name is Alfred and he reached out to me because he saw me tweeting about it. I needed some help with casting and finding some folks out there and he helped me. So it went really well.”

“Something I’m trying to do now is meet up with my subjects more often. So I’ll just keep shooting with them more and I keep returning to them until they become familiar with me. I don’t become a stranger anymore. The one thing I’ll do when I’m doing shoots if my editor is like, ‘Oh, they need to smile,’ I’ll make them say their favorite cereal in a sexy voice.”

“How would I describe [my photography style]? Intimate. I just like to make work that makes people feel good. I feel like that’s very open-ended, but that’s kind of just where I’m at with it. I feel like I’ve achieved that.”