For many of us, photographs are a way of locating ourselves in a time and place. They act as temporal markers, reminding us of people and events who might have otherwise fallen into the ether of memory’s unreliability.
Whether it’s a blurry snapshot of a birthday meal in a neighbourhood restaurant with good friends, or the kind of jaw-dropping image the adorns the front of a newspaper and clings to you for months on end, the photo is one the great inventions of the past few hundred years.
Someone who understands both the potentiality and the power of photography as a medium more than most is Tyler Mitchell.
The photographer shot to global attention when, back in August, it was confirmed that the Brooklyn-based snapper was to become the first black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover.
That cover, shot for the esteemed fashion magazine’s annual blow-out September issue, saw Tyler working with one of the 21st Century’s most important cultural figures: Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.
When the images first emerged, we said, “Tyler’s shots show Beyoncé larking about in a garden like a post-post-modern Venus, lounging on a rather opulent staircase, and wearing an array of stylishly abstract hats. Shot with the kind of confidence that only a 23-year-old who has already worked with Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, and Ray-Ban can possess, they’re set to become instantly iconic images of a pop star in her imperial phase.” We still think this is the case.
We also think that, Beyonce aside, Tyler has had an amazing year. The Atlanta-born photographer and filmmaker has consistently impressed us with his approach to a variety of topics, spread across a wide array of editorial and commercial work.
Still just 23 years old, Tyler, who has said in previous interviews that his interest in visual documentation came from immersing himself in Atlanta’s suburban skate scene, evidently has a boundless sense of confidence with a camera. Happily he has the talent to back it up, too.
Take his recent shoot with British-Ghanaian photographer Campbell Addy for the latest issue of interiors-bible Apartamento. Tyler’s signature glossy kind of intimacy is muted somewhat, with the usual pops and flashes of high-contrast colour swapped for the naturalistic grain of a Wolfgang Tillmans, say, or Thomas Demand.
Interrogating Campbell’s living space, Tyler’s camera guides us toward detail — a Creative Review cover shot by Campbell himself, a few fronds of a houseplant hidden behind a studio door, a flash-sodden stash of fashion magazines — with intriguing precision. It shows, brilliantly, a lesser-seen side of Tyler Mitchell.
When It’s Nice That asked Tyler what he thought the most important life lesson 2018 taught him was, his answer was succinct. “I’ve learned to hold on tight, get out my own way, listen to others and be myself at all times,” he says.
He cites singer Frank Ocean, film director Robert Altman, and the American artist Arthur Jafa as the cultural figures who made him glad to be alive this year. His wonderful, and important, work has made us very happy, in a year when not much has.
Evidently a busy man, he keeps things typically succinct when asked what he expects out of 2019. “I want,” he says, “to enjoy every moment.”
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