I Can Make You Feel Good: Tyler Mitchell’s Black Utopia

Tyler Mitchell. Untitled (Group Hula Hoop), 2019.

In the digital age, the images we see shape our reality: they inform us of what is happening around the world and transport us to places never seen before. To achieve this, it requires sensitive individuals who are willing to offer a different perspective inspired by their personal history.

Tyler Mitchell made history twice by becoming the first African-American and the youngest one to photograph the cover of Vogue at age 23, starring none other than Beyoncé. Almost two years later, he presents his first book titled I Can Make You Feel Good, where he offers a fresh look at portraying various stories under the same concept: freedom.

Tyler’s work is characterized by the unification of art, fashion, and culture, as well as various photographic genres, to achieve an intimate and pure representation, and the affirmation of his Blackness.

Tyler learned about his passion for creating images together with his skater friends in Marietta, Atlanta, where he was inspired by Spike Jonze’s aesthetic to capture them on video. As he recounted in an interview for AnOther Magazine, there he managed to find a community for the first time. He later received his BFA in Film and Television from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and the rest is history — his broad client portfolio now includes magazines such as American Vogue, British Vogue, Dazed, i-D Magazine, Document Journal, and campaigns for fashion brands like Comme des Garçons and JW Anderson.

Years later, Mitchell is still interested in that sense of community that he felt among his skater friends, and it is something that leads to both his personal and commissioned works, which make little distinction and are used as “opportunities to create this utopian universe — whether that’s photographing Beyoncé, Spike Lee, skaters in Cuba, or my very close friends.”

…the move towards accelerated digitization is also a call to value what remains physically suspended in time.

Given the current context, the relevance of images continuing to exist outside of digital space is even greater, since the move towards accelerated digitization is also a call to value what remains physically suspended in time. This book bears the same name as his first solo exhibition in the United States at the International Center of Photography (ICP), for which, commenting on his process, he said:

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 — the kind of stuff Larry Clark and Ryan McGinley would make. I seldom saw that freedom for Black people in images — or at least in the photography I knew. My work responds to this lack. I feel an urgency to visualize Black people as free, expressive, effortless, and sensitive.

I Can Make You Feel Good contributes to the contemporary visual vocabulary around the black body: it proposes a redesigned future in which its protagonists emanate youth and are free under the same sun.

In 206 pages printed full bleed, I Can Make You Feel Good contributes to the contemporary visual vocabulary around the black body: it proposes a redesigned future in which its protagonists emanate youth and are free under the same sun.

However, in the midst of so much joy, Mitchell uses “water guns and plastic 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.” On the cover of the book, it shows young black men with the naked torso in the middle of the field, but the chain around the neck of the only one who faces the camera reminds us of the great shadow of the past on the present.

…the images we see shape our reality: they inform us of what is happening around the world and transport us to places never seen before.

I Can Make You Feel Good includes written contributions from Hans Ulrich Obrist (Artistic Director, Serpentine Galleries), Deborah Willis (Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University), Mirjam Kooiman (Curator, Foam) and Isolde Brielmaier (Curator-at-Large, ICP), “whose critical voices examine the cultural prevalence of Mitchell’s reimagining of the Black experience.”

As it was written at the beginning, the images we see shape our reality: they inform us of what is happening around the world and transport us to places never seen before. With I Can Make You Feel Good, Tyler Mitchell links identity, clothing, history, community, and endless other elements to tell us the story of his black utopia and offer us a new notion of what life could be.

With I Can Make You Feel Good, Tyler Mitchell links identity, clothing, history, community, and endless other elements to tell us the story of his black utopia and offer us a new notion of what life could be.

I Can Make You Feel Good is available now. For more information, click here.

Originally published at http://latexmagazine.com on August 27, 2020.

passionate about photography, design, music, and filmmaking; interested in minimalism, technology, personal development, fashion, and sustainability.

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