Micaiah Carter, What’s My Name

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by Prestel Publishing (here). Hardcover (24 × 30 cm), 224 pages, with 170 color and 19 black and white photographs. Includes texts by the artist and Tracee Ellis Ross. Design by Barbara Glauber / Heavy Meta. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: What’s My Name, a debut monograph by Micaiah Carter, masterfully blends together portraits of family, friends, and celebrities, creating a dignified and graceful portrait of contemporary Black American life. Carter’s work has appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New York Times, and has featured various celebrities, including Daniel Kaluuya, Naomi Osaka, Zendaya, The Weeknd, Jeremy O. Harris, and Pharrell Williams, to name just a handful. He credits Jamel Shabazz, Carrie Mae Weems, and Viviane Sassen as key influences in his work, and his photographs stand out with their soft style and keen attention to color.

Photography has always been a part of Carter’s life. His monograph was hugely inspired by his family photo albums and family history, and this archive of images fascinated him from an early age and influenced his work as an artist. “I love the essence of family albums, especially with Black families in America. With so much of our ancestry being unknown, the family album gives a guide to understanding yourself.” The title of the book connects its content to Carter’s family. He recalls that when he was a kid, his father used to film him on his camera saying “What’s your name, young man?”, and he would always reply, “Micaiah Carter”.

What’s My Name is a relatively weighty hardcover book with a straightforward design, and its sparkling cover immediately catches the eye. A photograph of a young man concentrating on holding a basketball with the tips of fingers, which floats almost out of the frame, fills the entire front cover. The man’s sequined tank top matches the golden dust in the air, creating a striking, magical image. The artist’s name is discreetly embossed at the bottom of the cover, present yet hidden. Inside, the photographs range from small photographs to full bleed spreads, the smaller images and archival prints generally surrounded by a generous amount of white space. Simple captions are placed near the photographs, and thumbnails are provided for the commercial shoots at the end of the book, along with the list of credits, offering background details on the publications that commissioned the pictures and the teams of people who worked with Carter (make-up, hair, set design, style, casting etc.) to create the looks. 

Carter’s book weaves together his recent commercial work, fine art portraits, and his personal series, all guided by now-faded snapshots from his family albums. These family photographs are sprinkled throughout the book and cover the period from the 1950s to the 2000s. The intention behind including these images was to share his overlooked life moments with family, where a reason to love and smile comes through. The visual narrative of the book is built around pairings and associations, and is arranged thematically, guided by matched family snapshots. 

The book opens with a small black and white photograph placed in the upper right corner of the page. It shows three well dressed young men playfully posing for a photo. One of them is on a stool smiling and the other two are standing, fist bumping each other. The man on the right with a pipe is Carter’s father. The photo was taken in Vietnam, where Carter’s father was stationed, and it is a part of a group of shoots they did at a local portrait shop. 

The visual narrative of this photobook unfolds in an intimate and tender way. Carter’s photographs inhabit “warm truth and timeless energy,” as Tracee Ellis Ross writes in her foreword. He captures both the beauty and the everyday ordinariness of Black life. One of the first spreads shows a photograph of a young father on the street, looking straight in the camera, as he gently carries his toddler son seated on his shoulders. The smaller photo on the left is from a family album, and shows a man taking a photograph with his camera, drawing parallels between then and now. As we turn the page, it opens to a bigger horizontal shot of a boy getting a haircut. The yellow cup that he wears powerfully takes up most of the spread, the yellow light bounces off the wall behind him, and then draws our attention to a smaller image at the right bottom corner showing a group of kids in their yellow soccer uniform, an archival image from the early 1980s. 

As we move through the book, in another memorable photograph, a man stands in a room holding his young daughters, both wearing white dresses. He kisses the younger one on her forehead, and his other daughter rests her hand on his back. The photo captures the tenderness of the moment, and the undeniable love of the father, also offering an elegant alternative to a tough guy type of masculinity. The man is Carter’s brother and a single father. The two smaller snapshots on the right show a man holding a newborn baby, again making parallels between time and people. 

Throughout the book, Carter’s commercial photographs also appear in dialogue with the family photographs. An image of two Black women with Burberry scarves is placed next to a 1976 shot of two men in funky patterned shirts. A striking portrait of Daniel Kaluuya is placed side-by-side with a photo of a family member in a military uniform after receiving a medal. In Carter’s photographs, models and celebrities are drawn into the rhythms of the artist’s life, with unexpected warmth and familiarity. 

The very last photographs in the book are snapshots of a father with his newborn child, the caption reading “Untitled (Family Photos), 1995”, and we guess that this could be young Micaiah and his father. The image on the back cover is an old square Polaroid with a white frame, depicting a young woman on a sofa hugging a man; there are Christmas decorations and presents on the small table next to them. The handwritten text at the top of the shot reads “What’s my name”, reinforcing that Carter sees his body of work to date as “an extension of this family album, furthering a conversation of Black identity in America.” 

As with a number of contemporary Black photographers (like Tyler Mitchell, Nadine Ijewere, and Awol Erizku, as examples) who use their artistic vision to shift our gaze, Carter’s work reframes the way Black joys and humanity are represented. His photographs exude a sense of freshness and vitality, brimming with joy and confidence—all celebrating individual human beauty and diversity. Carter’s use of his personal family archive makes his series particularly intimate and engaging. What’s My Name thoughtfully considers the rhythms of family lineage and community, blending of the past and present in Black American life. Carter notes, “these photos are a reminder that we are all connected by our shared humanity. We are all part of the same story.”

Collector’s POV: Micaiah Carter is represented by SN37 Agency (here). His work has not yet found its way to the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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