TYLER MITCHELL, Untitled, 2019. | © Tyler Mitchell

 

ALLURING, JOYFUL, AND TIMELY, the photographs of Tyler Mitchell center the Black experiences he didn’t see represented in media when he was growing up. The images Mitchell came across focused on attractive white models at leisure and at play, having fun. Shifting how Black people are traditionally seen and represented, his empowering photographs emphasize freedom and hope, pleasure and delight, Black beauty, style, and individuality.

“Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good,” a newly published exhibition catalog, explores the concept of what the photographer calls “a Black utopia.” The fully illustrated volume documents Mitchell’s first U.S. solo exhibition. Currently installed at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York, the survey, also titled “I Can Make You Feel Good,” presents a selection of his recent photographs, videos, and installation works.

“I feel an urgency to visualize Black people as free, expressive, effortless, and sensitive,” Mitchell said in the introduction to the exhibition. “I aim to visualize what a Black utopia looks like or could look like. People say utopia is never achievable, but I love the possibility that photography brings. It allows me to dream and make that dream become very real.”

“I feel an urgency to visualize Black people as free, expressive, effortless, and sensitive.” — Tyler Mitchell

Mitchell’s pictures of Black possibility, wonder, and everyday mundane include scenes of hula hooping; a couple relaxing in a meadow; a close-up focusing on the hands of two young men in white shirtsleeves as one helps the other button his cuffs; and a beach shot, a nearly abstract composition that frames a woman’s sand-covered back and blue swimsuit in dramatic light and shadow. The latter image is called “Untitled (Heart). Look closely, the area of sand covering her back is heart-shaped.

 


“Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good,” by Tyler Mitchell, curators Mirjam Kooiman and Isolde Brielmaier, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Deborah Willis (Curator-at-Large, ICP),(Prestel, 206 pages). | Published Aug. 4, 2020 UK / Aug. 25, 2020 US

 

The title of the artist’s first major monograph (and the exhibition) comes from a 1982 song by Shalamar. Contributors to the volume include Deborah Willis, chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Hans Ulrich Obrist, director of Serpentine Galleries in London, conducted an interview with Mitchell. ICP Curator-at-Large Isolde Brielmaier curated the exhibition and contextualized his work in the fully illustrated catalog.

In an essay titled, “A Marvelous Mundane,” Brielmaier described Mitchell’s Utopian images. She wrote that they “exude a seemingly straightforward tranquility and blissfulness.”

She continued: “Throughout the history of our imaging, this sense of limitless possibility is all too unique. It is something that is rarely represented with Black people as its protagonists. So often we are seen struggling, striving, pained, defeated, and surviving. While these states of being reflect aspects of our realities and experiences, Mitchell’s work offers us another necessarily human dimension—a critical prospect in which to envision ourselves. His compositions are considered, complex, and multilayered, yet tightly framed and always intentional. They are comprised of very specific signs, symbols, and motifs.”

“Mitchell’s work offers us another necessarily human dimension—a critical prospect in which to envision ourselves. His compositions are considered, complex, and multilayered, yet tightly framed and always intentional.”
— Isolde Brielmaier

Speaking to the complexity of Mitchell’s images, a group shot of young black shirtless men with their backs to the viewer represents community, trust, and frivolity in a natural green space. At the same time, one of his subjects is wearing a thick chain-link necklace, conjuring references to prison chain gangs and enslaved bodies.

Titled “Boys of Walthamstow” (2018), the photograph covers the catalog. Set in an overgrown field with a thicket of dense trees nearby, the image is easily associated with the American South, but was captured in North East London.

Mitchell recently returned to the UK capital and spoke to Christiane Amanpour of CNN about the new book (see video below). The wide-ranging conversation covered the arc of his career.

 


TYLER MITCHELL, “Sosa with Orange Hula Hoop,” 2019. | © Tyler Mitchell

 

The Brooklyn-based photographer and filmmaker grew up outside Atlanta in Marietta, Ga., where he got his start in image-making filming skateboarding videos with his friends. Mitchell earned a BFA in film and television from NYU’s Tisch School (2017), where Willis was among his instructors.

A year later, Mitchell gained widespread recognition when he was tapped to photograph Beyoncé for the September 2018 cover of American Vogue. Published since 1892, the world’s most prominent fashion magazine had never hired a Black photographer to shoot a cover before. Mitchell made history at age 23.

A 2020 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellow, Mitchell talked with Amanpour about growing up middle-class in the suburbs. He identifies with the freedom and physical, intellectual, emotional, and psychological space represented in his images.

“A suburban existence is about having space. There’s a big front yard. There’s leisure and a lot of the things in the pictures that I had growing up,” he told Amanpour. “And those kind of experiences and kind of freedom, I started to understand as I grew up more, was luxury. Having a summer to kind of think about what I wanted to do with my life, those things are freedoms that I’m kind of posturing or gesturing or suggesting all Black folks should have.”

“Having a summer to kind of think about what I wanted to do with my life, those things are freedoms that I’m kind of posturing or gesturing or suggesting all Black folks should have.” — Tyler Mitchell

Amanpour said she was fascinated with his contention that photographing Black people at leisure is radical. “Why is that?” she asked.

Mitchell responded: “Well, it has to do with denied histories. Right? And this idea that visualizing and making images and projecting those and stating that visualizing Black folks enjoying their lives is important. Right? What’s central to that in my work is that existing in public space for Black folks in America has been denied. Psychically in our minds at any moment that freedom or that enjoyment that we are having or that pleasure could be taken away or stripped away. To me, this book stands for a beacon of that.” CT

 

The exhibition “Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good” debuted last year at Foam, the museum in Amsterdam. In New York, it opened at the International Center of Photography (ICP) on Jan. 25, 2020, coinciding with the inauguration of the museum’s new space, and was scheduled through May 18. A few months after the exhibition opened, ICP temporarily closed in March due to COVID-19. The museum currently remains closed and the exhibition has been extended to Dec. 31, 2020.

 

FIND MORE about Tyler Mitchell on his website

 


CNN Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour interviews photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell about his new book “I Can Make You Feel Good.” | Video by CNN

 


TYLER MITCHELL, Untitled (Toni),” 2019. | © Tyler Mitchell

 


TYLER MITCHELL, Still From Idyllic Space,” 2019. | © Tyler Mitchell

 


TYLER MITCHELL, Untitled (Park Frivolity),” 2019. | © Tyler Mitchell

 


TYLER MITCHELL, “Boys of Walthamstow,” 2018. | © Tyler Mitchell

 

FIND MORE Tyler Mitchell has collaborated with fashion, brands, corporations, and a variety of publications. A selection of projects includes photographing Spike Lee for Office magazine, Toyin Ojih Odutola for i-D magazine, and the student gun-reform activists from Majorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., for Teen Vogue; shooting American Vogue’s June 2019 cover of Zendaya, American Vogue’s April 2020 cover featuring a trio of models from around the world for its “Beauty Without Borders” issue, and GQ’s May 2020 cover of Kanye West; photographing the Fall/Winter 2019 campaigns for the fashion brands JW Anderson and Loewe, and directing and photographing the campaign for Copper, the unisex fragrance from Comme des Garçons

 

BOOKSHELF
Tyler Mitchell is featured in “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion” and his work also graces the cover of the exhibition catalog. In 2015, Mitchell self-published “El Paquete,” documenting his experience in Cuba. The limited-edition of 200 copies is now out of print.

 

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