When the International Center of Photography (ICP) opened its new location on January 25th on the Lower East Side, Tyler Mitchell was the star of the evening. The opening of the center’s new 40,000 square foot space at Essex Crossing was accompanied by four main exhibitions: CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop, James Coupe: Warriors, The Lower East Side, and Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good. The 24-year-old photographer made headlines in 2018 when he photographed Beyoncé for the cover of Vogue’s September issue, making him both one of the youngest and the first African-American to ever shoot a Vogue cover. The ICP show marks a significant achievement for this rising star, not only for the prestige of the institution, but also because this occasion marks Mitchell’s first solo exhibition in the United States. Get to know more about this young talent through his visual oeuvre and notable moments in his artistic career.
From Rap Videos and Skate Culture to Shooting Beyoncé in Vogue
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Mitchell started taking photographs as a teenager when a skater friend showed him a Canon 7D. He eventually moved to New York in 2013 to study film at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and continued to develop his artistic practice. Mitchell’s lens translated into moving images as well: he went on to film music video “Hell / Heroina” for rapper Kevin Abstract in 2014, as well as another one for Brockhampton in 2015. Soon after, he published his first photography book El Paquete after traveling to Havana, Cuba, with 30 rolls of film in hand, exploring the youth subculture and emerging skate scene. In an world full of constant social media and over stimulation, Mitchell chose instead to “cut through to something real and less instant gratification based.”
After spending a month in Havana, he spent the five following months compiling his first photography book El Paquete and staged an impromptu show for its launch in his East Village apartment. Turning 600 square feet into a gallery space, Mitchell created a DIY tropical setting, decorating the space with plants and white grids.
By 2016, he was voted number 6 among the Dazed100 guide to creatives shaping youth culture. By 2017, at just 22 years old, he had already worked with brands like Converse, Ray-Ban, Givenchy and Marc Jacobs. Since then, he has been featured in the 100 individuals recognized by the British Fashion Awards New Wave Creatives, and recently was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 for Art and Style in 2019.
The moment that really put Mitchell on the map was when Beyoncé handpicked him to shoot her for the Vogue September 2018 issue. She said:
“Until there is a mosaic of perspectives coming from different ethnicities behind the lens, we will continue to have a narrow approach and view of what the world actually looks like. That is why I wanted to work with this brilliant 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell.”
I Can Make You Feel Good: Visions of a “Black Utopia”
Before Tyler’s first US solo show opened at the International Center of Photography, it was shown at the FOAM Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam during Spring of 2019. The show includes two video installations, seven framed prints, and a collection of portraits printed on fabric hung on clothes lines throughout the gallery space. In his artist statement about the show, Mitchell says:
“I often think about what white fun looks like, and this notion that Black people can’t have the same. Growing up with Tumblr, I would often come across images of 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 seldom saw that freedom for Black people in images—or at least in the photography I knew. My work responds to this lack. I feel an urgency to visualize Black people as free, expressive, effortless, and sensitive…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.”
Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good is at the International Center of Photography, New York, from January 25 – May 18, 2020.