Despite the fact that African-Americans, Native Americans, and Mexicans made up a majority of the cowboys in America before the 20th century, their legacy has largely been whitewashed by the contemporary Americana.
Photographer Kennedi Carter’s latest series aims to redress that erasure by documenting the ties between agriculture and horsemanship in Black Southern communities.
All photos courtesy Kennedi Carter @internetbby
“Black cowboys have existed, they continue to exist, and they always will. These are their lives at the moment,” explains Carter, who last year became the youngest-ever British Vogue cover photographer with Beyonce's December 2020 cover. “While I was living in Texas as a child, I remember seeing horsemen on the highway from the backseat. Being young, I thought it was so strange, but even today I find cowboys so alluring, their energies feeling so free. I think what drew me to photographing Black equestrians was that their lifestyles are examples of sentient freedom, or happiness, rather. Horses aren’t entirely necessary to get around anymore; they choose to ride because it makes them happy and they love doing it.”
Carter has bounced around the South all her life, having been born in Charlottesville, Virginia, before moving to Texas as a young child. When her father received a job offer to be a professor at Duke University, the family moved to Durham, North Carolina, where she experimented with ice skating, watercolors, and piano before eventually finding her true love in photography.
“I feel that photography has become almost a form of catharsis,” Carter says. “I am most inspired by the things that I’ve witnessed as well as emotions that I’ve felt personally. Making photographs is an avenue for me to communicate my feelings or simply just to document the lives of folks I am inspired by.”
Kennedi Carter is one of 10 artists supported by Creator Labs, a visual arts incubator supporting rising talents that create new work about important cultural narratives. A partnership between Google and Lens, Creator Labs provides the resources for photographers, filmmakers, and YouTubers to capture personal work that is grounded in a social cause.
“Great photography is rooted in love, care, and experience,” she continues. “I love images that are inspired by the experience of the photographer as well as an image that tells the perspective of someone in close proximity to the subject. A friend told me that a great image isn’t always about the cowboy you’re shooting; it can also be about the cowboy’s wife, husband, or child and how they are also affected. That stuck with me a great deal — sometimes great storytelling in photography can be just a matter of shifting a perspective.”