Regulars / Ones to Watch 2019

Micaiah Carter’s had a meteoric rise but there’s far more to come from this prolific photographer

Illustrations:

Alva Skog

Micaiah Carter's had a meteoric rise but there’s far more to come from this prolific photographer

Look out for the Ones to Watch eye in this article to find out more about Micaiah

Micaiah Carter is a man in a hurry. The 23-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer has barely been out of college a year and already he’s landed some astonishing commissions. Over the past year, he’s shot Serena Williams for the cover of Adweek, Ciara for King Kong, Afropunk portraits for Vogue, and advertising campaigns for Nike, Converse and Thom Browne. We first spoke to him back in October and since then, his portfolio has already grown to include shoots for Vanity Fair and Playboy.

All in all, it’s an impressive haul for someone so young. Perhaps even more striking than the quantity of work he’s been putting out, though, is the originality of voice his photographs possess. One aspect of Micaiah’s work that sets him apart from others – even from far more experienced photographers – is his ability to capture his subject’s character, whether they’re a huge celebrity or someone outside of the public eye.

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“I just thought, I really love photography and capturing images in my viewpoint, no matter who the subject is”

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It’s something Micaiah picked up early when he was doing an internship at a local newspaper, The Daily Press, in his small southern Californian hometown. “The news there isn’t the greatest, so I would go out and shoot a mum who lost her son, or another week I’d go out and shoot this guy who was 110 for his birthday party,” he says. “It meant that when I came here to New York I wasn’t like, ‘I just want to be a fashion photographer, that’s my only thing.’ Instead, I just thought I really love photography and capturing images in my viewpoint, no matter who the subject is. I think it can be relatable no matter what.”

Asked what he wasn’t expecting when he moved to New York from sunny California, Micaiah says: “The rats… Oh, the rats… And the slush when it snows.”

Still, building a rapport with a celebrity, often when you don’t have much time with them, is a tricky business. For Micaiah, the secret is often music. “I try to have music on set as part of my process when I take photos,” he says, “because I feel like people can connect with music a lot, and you can find commonalities with it. Like with Taraji P Henson – she really liked my playlist and that kind of brought us to taking some really different photos, because it made her feel more comfortable and she got a glimpse of who I was a little bit.” During shoots, he gives his subjects lots of references for gestures, poses and facial expressions. “People like to be directed a bit. They feel more comfortable that way.”

In fact, according to Micaiah, she was “really vibing with the music”. At the end of the shoot, “she ended up downloading my playlist”, he recalls. We thought you might be interested to get your ears around that playlist too, so you can check it out here. It’s really good, by the way – Travis Scott, Busta Rhymes, Aretha Franklyn, Ashanti, Burna Boy, Kendrick Lamar, Missy Elliot (we could go on) all in one place.

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The images that are born out of this process convey the personality of his subjects in a powerful way, and this tone is garnering Micaiah commercial clients, too, as advertising shifts away from sell, sell, sell and towards something more nuanced. “Advertising people want to have a more personal approach,” says Micaiah. “Something that’s becoming more important is that relatability in photography – instead of having a glossy picture of something they’re trying to sell you, it’s the most natural way possible.” Just look at his campaigns for Nike and Converse and you’ll see what he means.

Another way the industry is changing is that photographers are now being asked to be in front of the camera. For instance, Micaiah was recently approached by a US eyewear brand asking if he’d be interested in featuring on their social media channels. “I just don’t really like photos being taken of me, which sounds weird, but I get really nervous in front of the camera,” he says, with a chuckle. “Maybe because my parents were kind of strict with me, I’ve never been that social – even in college, I had to force myself to go to parties and talk to people. I’m actually a very shy person at the heart of it.”

This goes to the heart of how his art is changing. Thanks largely to Instagram, photographers are no longer able to operate anonymously behind the camera; increasingly they are personalities in their own right, celebrities even. How does the naturally shy Micaiah feel about that? “It’s so different for me because I’m not used to being in front of the camera. So I’m just trying to get used to that whole other side of it,” he says. “The older I get and the more I get into this, the more I realise it becomes about your identity.”

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“Something that’s becoming more important is that relatability in photography – instead of having a glossy picture of something they’re trying to sell you, it’s the most natural way possible”

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When it comes to his own social media presence, he describes himself as “reclusive” – he doesn’t allow much of his own personality to come through and prefers to focus on the work. But he’s excited by the new challenge posed by the shifts he’s seeing in the industry: “I think it’s going to be cool, that people are excited to see the person behind the camera as well as the photos they take.” (We have a feeling that, if his career continues on its current trajectory, he’s going to have to get very used to that.)

A little insight into the person behind the camera here. Asked what he likes to do when he’s not shooting, Micaiah says: “I used to play football growing up, and currently, I love to just meditate when I’m not shooting, turning my phone off and taking time to get inspired for my next ideas. But that’s only rarely when I get a chance lol.”

Looking at that trajectory, it’s clear Micaiah has big plans for the future. He wants to ease up on the editorial work and focus on just shooting for bigger magazines (his two shoots towards the end of last year for Vanity Fair are certainly a good start). He’s also keen to build on something else he explored in 2018: film. “I did two music videos last year and now I want to start working in a more personal space with video,” he says. “Because the videos weren’t so commercialised but they weren’t as personal as I wanted them. So this year I think I can really blend all my worlds together and create a visual space, a visual language for that in video form as well.” Watch this space.

Although, when asked if there is anyone Micaiah dreams about shooting, he replies instantly: “I would love to photograph Erykah Badu in her studio, and just shadow her for a couple of days.”

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Yet, among all the editorial and commercial commissions, and among the new films he wants to work on, there’s one personal project Micaiah is keen to devote a chunk of time to this year. “I’m trying to finish my book that I’ve been working on for the past two to three years,” he says. “It’s kind of a monograph about my dad and the air force in the 1970s, and how his experiences are opposed to my experiences.”

Micaiah’s father was in his twenties when he was posted to Vietnam and, during that time, he took photos and filled a scrapbook that has now been passed down to Micaiah. “I think a lot of the same things I’m going through with discovering my blackness, he was going through, but in a different space and time. There are still similarities that I can pull from his old scrapbook.” Later in our conversation, he describes his father as “one of my biggest inspirations”.

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Even though Micaiah’s father was never a professional photographer, Micaiah points to one important thread that runs through both of their images. “That ability to connect in a personal way,” he explains. “His eye and his composition and, I think, the warmth of the subject too, the fact that they’re open to being photographed, open to being vulnerable. He really connected with his subject. I think that shows in both of our work.”

Micaiah is hoping to have a preview of the book ready before the end of 2019. And while we’re looking forward to seeing what this prolific and prodigious young photographer does next, editorially and commercially, it’s that book that really can’t come soon enough.

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