For this month’s edition of The Questions we caught up with artist and fashion photographer Piper Carter, a tastemaker who is making all the right moves behind the camera. Armed with technical know how, extraordinary vision and unwavering ambition the former The Shot contestant is destined to click her way to the top. We picked her brain about the ideal shoot, the fashion black out and what it takes to thrive in the industry.
Clutch: When did you know that you were destined for a career in photography?
Piper Carter: I knew I would be successful in Photography when I was in my first photo class at Howard University and watched my first print develop. It felt so right. I felt like I was giving birth to something great! It was a picture of my Homeboys hanging out in front of “The Towers”: Apartment-style dorms. I recognized the shape of a triangle they created lined up sitting on the railing. My Professor: Jarvis Grant encouraged me that it was one of the best images he had seen from a beginner and that they style and careful organization of the image was something that was intuitive to me. He put me on to Gordon Parks. I was hooked! I knew that this was something I could do for the rest of my life.
Clutch: Is there anything that you wish you would’ve known before you got started?
Piper Carter: I do not believe in regrets or wishing things were different. I’m a firm believer that things are as they should be: in Diving Order. I’ve had many trials and tribulations but I know that they were all a part of the learning process and a part of the plan that has brought me to today.
Clutch: You were one of the contestants on the reality series The Shot. What (if any) valuable lessons did you learn from that experience?
I learned that I am stronger than I believed myself to be. I learned that people see me as a threat. I learned that Television is not Reality. I learned to trust my instincts. I learned that as long as I give my all I have already succeeded. And I learned that some people appear to be cool but are really snakes. I also learned to always put my best foot forward and the most important thing I learned is to be ready so I don’t need to get ready.
Clutch: Do you feel like being on the show has helped your career?
Piper Carter: I feel that being on the show helped raise awareness about me and as a result of the exposure I have been able to leverage my worth much better. So, I will say yes in that sense it did help my career.
Clutch: What do you love the most about your job?
Piper Carter: My favorite part of Being a Fashion Photographer is making people feel good about themselves. I love it when people see my beautiful images and get excited and inspired.
It’s very rewarding to give a model or subject a good-bye hug and they smile and say they can’t wait to see the finished product.
Clutch: What would you say has been your most memorable assignment?
Piper Carter: My most memorable assignment was having the pleasure of shooting Erykah Badu for Spin Magazine. Everyone had told me all these stories that she was difficult and mean and horrible to work with.
First of all, this is not true. She is truly Amazing! She’s naturally beautiful inside and out. and she embodies all the attributes of a Goddess. I told the magazine I believed her to be an iconographic figure such as Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe and I convinced them to let me shoot her in two formats: 8×10 and 6×7. It was very expensive because basically I was shooting her twice.
I used the 6×7 to “warm her up” because the 8×10 is very large and slow (you can only shoot one 8×10 frame at a time, the whole process takes 2 minutes per shot) and I didn’t want to lose her attention. So once I was happy with the image I captured it with the 8×10.: 10 times= 10 different poses.
But I knew I wanted to immortalize her with the 8×10 camera: a true Photographer’s weapon of choice. And I made sure her personal designers dressed her: Epperson made her these tan distressed leather gloves with the fingers cut out. I shot her in a cream dress by Alissa Jimanez against a coffee colored background. It’s completely monochromatic with her smooth caramel skin. As a matter of fact, Vibe Magazine bought the image for their Women in Hip Hop book.
Clutch: Describe your dream photo shoot?
Piper Carter: Hmmm…well my dream client is Italian Vogue. My dream shoot is one with unlimited budget.
I have so many ideas it’s hard to choose just one. But definitely I choose the model, the location, the clothes, and my team. Oh, and I get paid on time.
Clutch: Is there anyone that you would love to collaborate with?
Piper Carter: Well where do I begin? As long as I’m sending wishes out to the Universe: Patti Wilson, Damon (Kelis’ Stylist), Brana Wolf, and Pat McGraff.
Clutch: There’s been a lot of conversation about the model blackout on high fashion runways and print publications. Does the same lack of representation of black talent exist behind the camera as well?
Piper Carter: Well, I challenge you to name all the Black Fashion Photographers through history up until today. (We’re talking fashion now not fine art, nor portraiture). You will find that list is even shorter than the models. If I’m not mistaken there are two: Melanie McDaniels and Marc Baptiste.
Clutch: What skills are needed for someone to be on top of their game in your field of work?
Piper Carter: To be quite honest there is no formula for success in this business. It’s all about relationships: who you know. But, I will say you have a better chance if you are smart and think outside the box. Having access to top of the line equipment, and great retouching and printing skills is definitely a plus. And if you have a flexible personality, are a good listener, pay attention to detail, are careful with composition, and can satisfy deadlines there is hope.
Clutch: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring photographers?
Piper Carter: I’d say shoot everyday, retouch everyday, become sensitive to light, or the lack of light, go to exhibitions, read tech magazines, show your work to people, and become an expert at what you do. don’t take no for an answer. No may mean “not right now”. and always have new work so when you see an art director in 3 months they can see what you’ve been up to. that no may just become a “Hell Yeah! why did we not hire you before?”
Clutch: So what’s up next for you Piper?
Piper Carter: For me now I’m planning a relaunch of myself as a brand in Sept: new website, new images, I’ve added video to my repertoire. It’s all in the works: I’m in the lab as we speak.
Clutch: Do you have any future plans or projects that you can tell us about?
Piper Carter: Be on the lookout in the fall for the new Vanilla Star jeans campaign featuring Nastia Liukin (four-time all-around U.S. National Champion in artistic gymnastics) and Kate Voegele (Interscope Records). And for two of my images in the Fall issue of Trace Magazine.
For more information on Piper Carter please visit www.pipercarter.com