Behind the Cover: Micaiah Carter on shooting the women of Euphoria for The Cut

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All images © Micaiah Carter for The Cut.

“It was about having fun and focusing on the beauty of the women,” says Carter

Since its second season aired in January 2022, Euphoria has made history. The teen drama is the second most-watched series on HBO (behind only Game of Thrones) and has sparked a fashion and beauty movement online. It follows a group of high school students navigating struggles with drugs, love, social media and money. A highly stylised high school fantasy, its aesthetic is characterised by high-contrast lighting and saturated tones of glittery purples, deep pinks and moody blues.

Approaching the end of the second season in February, The Cut published a cover story celebrating the show’s women stars: Zendaya, Alexa Demie, Barbie Ferreira, Sydney Sweeney, Hunter Schafer, and Maude Apatow. Shot by Micaiah Carter, the aesthetic is distinctly different from that of the HBO drama. Elegant and warm, the images are imbued with a timelessness that has become distinct to Carter’s oeuvre.

“We wanted to dive into something different,” says Carter, whose portfolio of cover shoots includes Pharrell Williams for GQ, Naomi Osaka for WSJ, and Playboi Carti for The Fader. Rather than reflecting the characters the actors depict on-screen, the goal was to have them “feel like themselves”. “We just based it on their own personal beauty and their own personal interests.”

The brief was “pretty free”, he continues. “There wasn’t a theme, per-se. We wanted to create work that felt unique, but which also felt down to earth.” Carter had a loosely organised mood board, but for the shoot itself he was guided mostly by intuition. “I wish there was a bigger story about how it came about, but it was basically about having fun and focusing on the beauty of the women.”

Shooting six cover stars over three days was no easy endeavour either. “It was a lot,” says Carter. “But it’s a give-in when you have six main talents.” Carter had worked with Zendaya and Barbie Ferreira before, but it was his first time shooting all of the cast together. He finds that having a familiarity with the people he is photographing helps, as they trust his vision. “Because I’ve worked with Zendaya so much, I think her cast trusted me too,” he adds. 

The shoot was collaborative from start to finish. “That’s what was present through the whole shoot,” says Carter. “I planned the sets based on what I thought fit them best”. For example, when Alexa Demie was given her look with the pink hoodie [above] she drew out a concept for her own hair and makeup. “When I saw that, I knew we had to shoot it with a clean white background, because I thought the look was so graphic.”

Working with actors like Alexa Demie, who are so used to being in front of the lens (she recently collaborated on a photobook with Petra Collins) makes the shooting process more collaborative too. “She was ready for the camera. All of them are used to that, and all of them bring something to the table that is unique to them,” Carter reflects. 

The photographer worked closely with the team at The Cut, particularly its photo editor Liana Blum and stylist Jessica Willis. “We all wanted to build something together,” he says. “I’m excited because the approach for this was to shoot it like my old work, and I think that came across.” Having support from the team to produce on his own terms was vital. “[The images are] in their own universe, but I think it’s in my universe,” he says. ‘That was most exciting, getting the trust to really just do what I wanted.”

Micaiah Carter’s cover shoot was commissioned by The Cut, published on 14 February 2022, in New York Magazine.

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.