Micah McCoy—Photographer, Poet


Something once written in an automobile while driving in the south side of Chicago, dictated to an iPhone while sitting on an off ramp. A person by the name of “Little Charles” was standing on the side of the road and snow had begun to fall.

I’ve a thousand children.
All around me while I slumber.
Asking where they go when they die.
I’ve made so many promises.
All out the right of my mouth.
Whispered onward floating in the prairie winds.
I’ve no answer for the wee ones and no escape from the wondering minds.
But here we are in the chamber room.
Panting for the truth.

Dreaming of the river and the cleansing power of the calm waters.

Dreaming of our mother’s wedding and the countenance of the lord.

Dreaming, dreaming, dreaming with our heads on our little pillows and minds in heaven.

I’ve a thousand children.
All strewn about.

Asking where they go.

Asking where they go.

Minor Prophet


Minor Prophet is loosely based on the Judeo-Christian story of Job, and witnesses a family faced with existential crisis in a chillingly desperate landscape. Centering around the family home, the photographs chart the psychological space of my family’s private inner world. As I’ve photographed our farmhouse, the surrounding lands and took portraits of myself and my family, I began to see our home as a canvas on which the various sectors of our consciousness were laid bare.

This series blurs the line between traditional documentary and the fictional, leveraging the illusion of photographic truth to allow the individual characters in the narrative to function as surrogates in mythmaking. The resulting fable is scaffolded by photographic strategies that reinforce the monumentality of the biblical origins inherent in the work. The series focuses on the frailty of human life, contrasted with the resilience of the land. Precise sequencing allows an open-ended narrative to crystalize.  An amalgamation of portraits and rural landscapes tie the characters to the land, emphasizing the connection between place and its embedded religious history. These photographs act as a modern parable, an updated story of doubt for a modern audience.

Minor Prophet
Micah McCoy, 2021

“Men sat in the street wagering their souls all / while I just wanted to wake up. / I’ve been here before across the bridge to home,” Micah McCoy writes in one of the poems that bears a weight equal to that of his photographs in Minor Prophet. Implausibly enough, I too have been here before; he and I are from towns just 15 miles apart in a central Illinois county of fewer than 17,000 of those souls.

So I know this landscape intimately. What I don’t know is the world of this work. At least not yet, even after repeated viewings (a state of affairs which I enjoy very much). That’s because – as is proper – Minor Prophet is not “about” any particular place on the face of this earth. Which is to say that it is not descriptive of a location, but rather evocative of a situation that pervades both inside and outside the maker – an ultimately unresolvable situation at that.

There are four “characters” (whom we meet in staged photographs that subtly suggest interiorities that are perhaps not entirely frictionless with one another) and they appear to be a family. Still life pictures – of scissors, or of some communion wafers – portend without too much specificity. The plains are nondescript, and although we recognize a variety of seasons, this work does seem to me to have a mind of winter; one hears misery in the sound of this wind.

Nostalgia is often supposed of (or imposed upon) black-and-white photography, but here the tensions and ambiguities are simply too fresh, too wholly present, to belong to any history. “I do desire to summon a wistfulness but if the pictures relate in some way to the past, I think their primary dialect is regret,” Micah says. What’s done is done, but regret is the inescapable echo of what’s done. It stays always close to hand.

Now – mind you – all of this is the artist’s creation. The actual members of his family, and the actual home and land which they inhabited, have nothing to do with this. Micah is a photographer, and the gift/curse of his camera is that he can (must) make use of the absolutely real to convey the absolutely unreal. As proof: “I didn’t really learn anything new about myself or my family while making this work,” he notes. “I had pictures in my mind that I wanted to make, that I believe say certain things.” This, I believe, is why we photographers choose to work with and through our strange machines. To make pictures – which are new things in the world, and different in kind from that world – not mere documents of things already existent.

Speaking to the core of this work, Micah describes “a family faced with existential crisis in a chillingly desperate landscape.” Every unhappy family is for sure unhappy in its own way; I submit that every artist is similarly broken in his or her own way. Minor Prophet stands plainly as evidence of Micah McCoy’s brokenness, and – more importantly – as testament to his longing to make tenuous communion (to wager his soul) with the people and places that are the stubbornly actual stuff of this world, which is the only one we have.

Tim Carpenter
December 2022

A collaboration between a long dead grandfather and grandson.

Let That Day Be Darkness
Micah McCoy, 2021