Tyler Mitchell’s first solo exhibition, I Can Make You Feel Good, opened in Amsterdam last spring, at the city’s Foam photography museum. Tomorrow, almost a year later, and a second iteration of the exhibition launches in New York – “pt. 2 the remix” as Mitchell called it on Instagram – marking the photographer’s first solo exhibition in his home country. To coincide with the launch, Mitchell-designed merch dubbed ‘Items from the Studio’ will be available to buy at the ICP’s new Lower East Side building in the coming weeks. What’s more, a monograph published by Prestel will be released this spring, looking at Mitchell’s oeuvre so far and the heights he has reached – all before the age of 25.
Mitchell’s name became widely known throughout the fashion industry and beyond when, in August 2018, his history-making cover of Beyoncé was revealed for American Vogue’s September issue. Then 23 years old, Mitchell was both the youngest photographer to shoot a Vogue cover, and the first person of colour to do so. Both personal work and editorials created for the pages of magazines like Dazed feature in I Can Make You Feel Good, a survey of the rich and compelling “black utopia” that Mitchell imagines with his camera. “People say utopia is never achievable, but I love the possibility that photography brings,” he says in a statement released to mark the exhibition’s opening in New York. “It allows me to dream and make that dream become very real.”
The length of one hallway in the International Center of Photography houses a series of washing lines, on which hang large fabric prints of Mitchell’s photographs. The Atlanta-born image-maker has long taken suburban mundanities and inserted them into his work, visualising idyllic leisure scenes for his ever-expanding utopic world. Though there are nods to quotidian microtraumas and violence experienced against black people in his photographs and films, Mitchell insists on an overarching positivity; the exhibition is “gut-punching in its optimism”, he says.
Speaking to Dazed’s Ashleigh Kane for AnOther last year as the Foam exhibition opened, Mitchell explained this feeling of positivity. “I already had an idea that was fixated on optimism and a sense of play and freedom, rather than looking at the negative, political side that sometimes people attribute to my work,” he said. “So it was really focused on a theme, with the title, the work selection, the sizing, the curation, and the videos… It’s a feeling of optimism within blackness. I’m more interested in showing a certain community, intimacy, optimism, sense of play, and freedom, rather than focusing on any other aspects that sometimes black artists get thrown into the throes of needing to talk about.”
In December of last year, Mitchell was announced as a fellow of the Gordon Parks Foundation for 2020, alongside Nina Chanel Abney; each will receive $20,000 towards projects that draw inspiration from Parks’ pioneering creative outlook, in particular his focus on “themes of representation and social justice”, to be exhibited in New York later this year. Mitchell has explained, in a post on Instagram, that his project “will mine Parks’ archive to explore and respond to his understanding of dress and identity”, in a series inspired by the late image-maker’s 20th-century fashion photography, dating from the 1940s to the 70s. Bookended by two major exhibitions, 2020 is already looking set to be one of Mitchell’s most exciting years yet.
Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good is at the International Centre for Photography, New York, from January 25 – May 18, 2020.