‘I feel like I’m emerging within myself’: Photographer Tyler Mitchell on his transformative new show

CNN

Jacqui Palumbo and Christiane Amanpour, CNN

After a number of high-profile Vogue covers, evocative solo exhibitions in New York and Amsterdam and the release of an accompanying book, photographer Tyler Mitchell now presents a new collection of images at Gagosian in London.

“Chrysalis,” Mitchell’s sequel to “I Can Make You Feel Good,” continues the photographer’s practice of shooting idyllic portraits of black youth at play or at rest, reveling in a sense of freedom and camaraderie .

“(The title refers to) the state between a sort of caterpillar and a butterfly, but also a state of transformation and transition,” Mitchell told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “And a lot of these photos that I was doing were really about this idea of ​​a meditative state of rest, recreation, but also cocooning.”

Shot in New York and London, the new works play with fiction and “emotional truth”, as Mitchell puts it, as he sets theatrical scenes that aim to be deeper and richer representations of the black lives and were influenced by her own Southern roots. Childhood symbols add a sense of play but convey a bigger message: an image depicts a boy in a lake, eyes closed, head just above the waterline, with a string of balloons rising in the air next to him.

“It’s an image of a boy barely floating on the surface…these images that we did upstate (in New York) are really about a psychological state,” Mitchell said, adding that many photos refer to “being black and in public space”. .”

Although many works were shot outdoors, others only allude to the presence of nature – through the background of a garden behind a model or a mosquito net above a bed. a boy – but were created in the studio.

“A lot of these (photographs) relate directly to the relationship between black people and nature,” Mitchell said. “Growing up in Atlanta, much of my personal upbringing took place in nature – more than most could imagine.”

The artist also told Amanpour that he was thinking about his own growth as he completed his second work.

“I feel like I’m emerging into myself,” Mitchell said. “But I’m also aware that I’m a name that moves the conversation forward in photography, and so I’m happy about that.”

“A World of Black Beauty”

In 2018, Mitchell instantly became a household name in contemporary photography when, at age 23, he took portraits of Beyonce for Vogue and became the first black photographer to grace the cover in the magazine’s 126-year history. He has since photographed Harry Styles and Zendaya, among other fashionable celebrities, for publication, but this was his cover portrait of Vice President Kamala Harris, released before she took office. who made waves on the internet for her unconventional style.

Amanpour asked Mitchell how he responded to criticism that the image, taken for a February 2021 issue, wasn’t “vice-presidential” enough because Harris was wearing a casual outfit and Converse sneakers. (A second digital-only cover, which Vogue published later, featured her in a more conventional blue pantsuit.)

“I’m very proud of these photos and the experience I had with her, which was very joyful,” Mitchell said. “She chose what she wanted to wear and presented herself as she wanted to be presented. And so it was my job to really do what I do in my job, which is to present people in a very free and honest way.

It’s an approach he’s applied to all facets of his practice, including his commissioned fashion work and self-assigned fine art.

“My work in general is really about those in-between moments, the mundane, and actually celebrating those moments as being the most beautiful, rather than that conventional facade of glamor and beauty,” he said.

Mitchell said he sees his work as part of a much larger movement — a new canon of black image-makers who are “correcting” long-held narratives about black lives. With “I Can Make You Feel Good”, he responded to images of violence or struggle widely disseminated in the media and popular culture by instead featuring photos that represented joy and beauty.

“Making images and creating a world of black beauty is an act of justice in that sense,” he said. “I feel very lucky to be celebrated in the work that I do, (to be) supported and to have a community around me…I think it’s all part of the work that hopefully will changes the paradigm over time.”

Chrysalisis playing now at Gagosian until November 12.

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CNN’s Danai Kupemba, Emmet Lyons and Madalena Araujo contributed to this story.

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