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

written by Jacqui PalumboChristiane Amanpour, CNN

Christiane Amanpour’s interview with Tyler Mitchell airs Wednesday at 1pm ET. See more here.
Following a series of high-profile Vogue cover shoots, evocative solo exhibitions in New York and Amsterdam, and the publication of an accompanying book, photographer Tyler Mitchell now showcases a new collection of images at Gagosian in London.

“Chrysalis,” Mitchell’s follow-up to “I Can Make You Feel Good,” expands on the photographer’s practice of taking idyllic portraits of young black people at play or at rest, enjoying a sense of freedom and companionship.

“(The title refers to) the state between sort of being a caterpillar and a butterfly, but also a transformative, transitional state,” Mitchell told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “And a lot of these images that I was making were really about this idea of ​​a meditative state of rest, leisure, but also really cocooning.”

After several years, photographer Tyler Mitchell has opened his sophomore exhibition at mega gallery Gagosian.

After several years, photographer Tyler Mitchell has opened his sophomore exhibition at mega gallery Gagosian. Credit: Tyler Mitchell/Jack Shainman Gallery/Gagosian

Shot in New York and London, the new play plays with fiction and “emotional truth,” as Mitchell puts it, as it stages theatrical scenes that aim to be deeper, richer representations of black life and were influenced by their own southern roots. Symbols of childhood add a sense of play, but carry a larger message: one image shows a child in a lake, eyes closed, head just above the water line, with a string of balloons ‘raise in the air beside him.

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

Although many of the works were shot outdoors, others only hint at the presence of nature, through the backdrop of a garden behind a model or a mosquito net over the bed a child, but they were created in a studio.

"A lot of these images that I was making were really about this idea of ​​a meditative state of rest, leisure, but also really cocooning," Mitchell said.

“A lot of these images that I was making were really about this idea of ​​a meditative state of rest, leisure, but also really cocooning,” Mitchell said. Credit: Tyler Mitchell/Jack Shainman Gallery/Gagosian

“Many of these (photographs) deal directly with the relationship between black people and nature,” Mitchell said. “Growing up in Atlanta, a lot of my personal education was in nature, more than most could imagine.”

The artist also told Amanpour that he was thinking about his own growth while doing his sophomore work.

“I feel like I’m emerging into myself,” Mitchell said. “But I’m also aware of the fact that I’m a name that’s driving the conversation in photography, and for that I’m happy.”

“A world of black beauty”

In 2018, Mitchell instantly became a household name in contemporary photography when, at the age of 23, he photographed Beyonce for Vogue, becoming the first black photographer to shoot the cover of the 126-year-old ‘history of the magazine. He has since photographed Harry Styles and Zendaya, among other zeitgeist-creating celebrities, for the publication, but it was his cover portrait of Vice President Kamala Harris, published before he took office. which made waves on the internet for its unconventional style.

Amanpour asked Mitchell how she responded to criticism that the image, shot for a February 2021 issue, was not “Vice Presidential” enough because Harris was wearing casual clothes and Converse sneakers. (A second, digital-only cover that 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 the way she wanted to be presented. So it was my job to really do what I do in my work, which is to present people in a very unbridled and honest”.

Mitchell is part of a larger movement of black photographers aiming to provide a richer representation of black life.

Mitchell is part of a larger movement of black photographers aiming to provide a richer representation of black life. Credit: Tyler Mitchell/Jack Shainman Gallery/Gagosian

It’s an approach she has applied to all facets of her practice, including her commissioned fashion work and her self-assigned artwork.

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

Mitchell said she sees her work as part of a much larger movement: a new canon of black image-makers who are “correcting” long-held narratives about black life. With “I Can Make You Feel Good,” he responded to the images of violence or struggle that have been widely seen in the media and popular culture by instead presenting photos that depicted joy and beauty.

“Making images and creating a world of black beauty is an act of justice in that way,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to be celebrated in the work that I’m doing, (to be) supported and to have a community around me… I think that’s all part of the work that is hopefully changing the paradigm over time” .

chrysalis” is on view at Gagosian now through November 12.

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