photographer tyler mitchell debuts solo work
April 9, 2019
In 2018, Tyler Mitchell established a foothold in history when he became the first African-American photographers to shoot a cover for Vogue — and one of the youngest too. Amplifying the momentous occasion was the fact that it was Vogue’s infamous, fashion-world-stopping September issue, and that the cover subject was Beyonce. However, equally significant, may be his Teen Vogue cover of March 2018; it featured four young women activists — Emma Gonzalez, Sarah Chadwick, Nza-Ari Khepra and Jaclyn Corin — whom Mitchell called “the new faces of gun reform” in an Instagram post.
These parallel opportunities reflect the integration of social activism and fame that is embodied in Mitchell’s work, both obviously and conceptually. That his photography practice exists at the intersection of art and commerce, a platform to generate dialogue and inspire others, can be gleaned from Mitchell’s first solo show, I Can Make You Feel Good, opening at Foam Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam on April 19th. The exhibit features both commercial and personal work, as well as the premier of the new video works, Idyllic Space and Chasing Pink, Found Red, and aims to explore Black utopia.
Mitchell describes his work as a counterpoint, or as a parallel narrative, to the visual content of photographers and filmmakers who create worlds infused with a laissez-faire attitude and carefree white subjects. “I would very often come across sensual, young, attractive white models running around being free and having so much fun – the kind of stuff Larry Clark and Ryan McGinley would make. I very seldom saw the same for Black people in images – or at least in the photography I knew of,” he says.
Mitchell is keenly aware of the fantasy involved in the creation of a world where Black bodies and minds are free of a palpable awareness of the possibility (or reality) of everyday violence. Still, he provocatively explores a distinctly African-American experience and longing in a new light. A related ethos can be found in the work of some of Mitchell’s contemporaries — such as the painter Jennifer Packer and French photography duo, Durimel. A relaxed attention and exploration of the humanity of contemporary Blackness that prioritizes ephemerality and emotional landscapes obscures the trauma of history, while simultaneously offering a dream of an alternate selfhood.
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