BHM: Tyler Mitchell’s groundbreaking photos


Photo from MasterClass

Tyler Mitchell on storytelling through photography.

Isaac Barnett

In September of 2018, Vogue published its first magazine in its 130-year history with a cover image taken by an African American photographer. That photographer is a 26-year-old from Atlanta named Tyler Mitchell.

The photo on the cover features Beyonce with an arrangement of flowers on her head sitting elegantly in a white dress against a clean white background. In 2019, The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery acquired a photo from this shoot for their permanent collection.

“Documented and real, or fictitious and stages, my images are characterized by an interest in purity and intimacy. In them, models recline, embrace each other closely, and peer into the lens, leaving evidence of a public display of affirmation in Blackness and a unifying visual text of hope. I also occasionally weave symbols into my portraits such as water guns and plastic resin chains-symbols of repression as a subtle reminder of the ways in which the Black body is still politicized, and sometimes unable to move through the real world as freely as I would like,” Mitchell writes in his book, I Can Make You Feel Good.

Mitchell was a filmmaker and made homemade skateboard videos with friends. His first photo book was titled El Paquete and it documented the skateboarding scene in Havana. Mitchell’s photographs are cleanly composed with carefully curated costumes and a vibrant palette of colors that makes the models seem larger than life.

“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. I seldom saw the same for black people in images… My work comes from a place of wanting to push back against this lack. I feel an urgency to create a body of images where black people are visualized as free, expressive, effortless, and sensitive,” Mitchell writes in his book, I Can Make You Feel Good.

A collection of his short films and photography are featured on his website.