tyler mitchell: “black people have been ‘thingified’, i’m looking to elevate the black body”
August 8, 2018
One hundred and twenty-six years. There is a certain tainted awe that a number like that carries but for the individual responsible for setting that number in stone, it can hold an immense amount of pressure. 23-year-old photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell has taken such pressure in stride as the first Black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover – the September Issue no less – in the magazine’s 126-year history. Mitchell has always been the kind of creator to carve his own path, and now with the help of THE game-changer, Beyoncé, his place in history is secured.
One could argue that Mitchell came out of “nowhere” but the photographer has a stimulating portfolio that would probably be well-known if we didn’t live in a world where 126 years can go by at Vogue without a black photographer shooting a cover. Mitchell has worked for Condé Nast and Solange, with his work also being picked up by publications like i-D. According to The Cut, By the time he’d graduated from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in 2017 with a B.F.A. in film and television, he’d also shot Lil Uzi Vert for the cover of Fader and worked with brands like Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Converse, and American Eagle.” This is not Mitchell’s first rodeo and his measured attitude towards this historic moment is a clear indication of why he is trusted by the biggest entertainer on the planet.
Mitchell is a trained filmmaker that found his love of the craft on the wheels of his first skateboard. A student of Spike Jonze’s early skate videos, Mitchell is a child of the Youtube generation, stating in his Vogue interview, “I learned how to make movies and how to edit that way. I quickly formed my point of view.”
Even with his impending meteoric rise, Mitchell still holds the beliefs of community he found in his skating background, honing in on his desires to explore depictions of black and brown bodies in order to put images out there that actualize Black people. “For so long, black people have been considered things,” he adds. “We’ve been thingified physically, sexually, emotionally. With my work I’m looking to revitalize and elevate the black body.”
As young as he is, Mitchell isn’t unaware of the opportunity that he has been given, which is why he wants to let others through the very door that was opened for him. He elaborates by saying “there was a ladder for the people who came before me, and there’s a ladder now — it’s just a new ladder,” Mitchell told Vogue. “I want to open the eyes of the kids younger than me, show them that they can do this too.” When asked to define the kind of photographer he is, Mitchell replied, “I’m a concerned photographer,” displaying an awareness about his craft and the power that it wields to contest and expand long-held narratives. Just one more reason to be assured that history is in good hands.
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