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Tyler Mitchell: A new wave of photography

Tyler Mitchell, 2018. Credit: Vogue

June 1 marks the start of the Idyllic Space exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum, a fashion and fine art photography exhibit by Westminster alumnus Tyler Mitchell (‘13) now based in Brooklyn, New York.

Mitchell grew up in Marietta, Georgia, and attended Westminster for his high school years. He later went on to attend New York University, where he studied cinematography to pursue his dream of photography. At the age of 23, he made history by being the first Black photographer to be published on the cover of Vogue by shooting a photo of Beyoncé, as well as shooting for many prominent brands like Gucci, Loewe, and Marc Jacobs. In 2019, he was featured in the Forbes “30 Under 30” list, and in 2020, he published his first book, “I Can Make You Feel Good.”

In Mitchell’s newest exhibition, he explores familial love and relationships through the expressive nature of his work, centered around Black self-allegiance. His use of contrasting colors, unexpected juxtaposition of shape and form, and the breaking of the third wall all invite the viewer into a new space created in his mind’s eye. According to an article by SCAD for a previous exhibition, Mitchell “articulates a sensitivity and attentiveness to the quieter moments of life and the potential for beauty and transformation in things that may otherwise seem ordinary.” In short, Mitchell takes the mundane and brings it forward in thought-provoking and esoteric new light.

Mitchell’s work primarily focuses on Black subjects and their unique perspectives.

 “I aim to visualize what a Black utopia looks like or could look like,” Mitchell said in a 2020 article by the International Center for Photography. “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.”

Committing to photography requires understanding cameras, subjects, and the history behind such a rich art form. For students inspired by Mitchell and looking to pursue photography, Westminster offers incredible resources to novice and seasoned photographers alike. In the Visual Arts Department,teacher Michael Reese shared some of his insights from classes that he teaches, as well as his own influences. Starting out in visual arts, he had primarily practiced painting and drawing, until the day he took a photography class.

 “When I took that class, photography had really overwhelmed me more than any other art than I had taken before,” says Reese. “I got the bug, I got super passionate about it. Photography took over.”

Photography classes focus on the craft and technique behind a picture, often using Westminster’s vast campus as a source of inspiration. 

“One of the things that is incredible about photography is that we have the real world, and we have to attempt to turn it into poetry,” said Reese. “It’s about seeing your world deeper. It’s about ‘How do you see the regular world in a poetic way?’ Some of the beauty becomes invisible because we see it everyday… my job is to take the blinders off and find out ‘How do I make this beautiful?’”

As aspiring photographers look at the possibilities of where they can take this art form, Mitchell’s works serve as an inspiration of showcasing an artist’s ability to marry one’s childhood environment with the world as one dreams to see it. Westminster offers a plethora of resources to dive into this art form, such as elective classes and journalistic photography. Students are encouraged to take advantage of these opportunities, and Tyler Mitchell serves as a paragon for the determined and creative photographers that these programs produce. 

Edited by Evvie Morgan

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