Tyler Mitchell will be the first African American photographer to shoot a cover for Vogue in the publication’s 126 year history. Mitchell, 23, was handpicked to photograph Beyoncé, who will appear on the upcoming September issue.
According to the Huffington Post, Beyoncé obtained full control over the cover shoot from Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, and chose Mitchell as a means of promoting diversity among the publication. “The reason a 23-year-old black photographer is photographing Beyoncé for the cover of Vogue is because Beyoncé used her power and influence to get him that assignment,” a source told Huffington Post.
Here’s what you need to know about Tyler Mitchell:
1. He Graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts
Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia, where he developed an interest in taking photos of his friends and making amateur skate videos. “[I was] skateboarding with my friends when I was 15 and one day my friend Mike showed me what a Canon DSLR was,” he told The Wild Magazine. “It was over from then on.”
“I was terrible but you begin to just tell people you’re a photographer until it actually happens. People wanna bring you along, they want their picture taken, it starts snowballing once you tell someone that you shoot,” he added. “When I moved to New York I quit skating. I couldn’t keep it up with school. But I kept taking pictures and making little films. So it took off. I [was] always drawn to creative types.”
He relocated to the East Coast so that he could attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He graduated from Tisch with a B.F.A in film and television, and shortly afterwards, he began contributing to print magazines like The Fader, Office Magazine, and Teen Vogue. When asked why he likes taking photographs, Mitchell told The Wild: “Because nothing is real anymore. As a society we rely so much on photos. Our only reality is through images so I’m gonna create my own.”
Mitchell is active on social media, but he told The New York Times that print magazines like The Fader are appealing because they offer a more tangible experience. “I think magazines are a great way to be like, ‘This is important enough to be published on the printed page,’” he said.
2. He Self-Published the Photography Book ‘El Paquete’ In 2015
After graduating from Tisch, Mitchell traveled to Cuba as part of a documentary photography program, where he spent six weeks capturing Havana’s skateboard scene and architecture. He compiled the photographs he took into the self-published book El Paquete. “[Those] photos were created in a place where I couldn’t really be affected by anything other than Havana itself,” he said. “I wasn’t too concerned with what was cool or trending in the outside world because I couldn’t see any of that.”
As far as inspiration goes, Mitchell told Lomography that he was drawn to what he knew. “I began as a skateboarder,” he explained. “Although I’m not one any longer I understood what was going on and Cuba and said to myself “this needs to be documented.” I made such a bond with the skaters that they would introduce me to the entire growing community. We played games of skate. It was all very natural. And it seems like people can understand that from the photos.”
The book drew praise from publications like Dazed Digital and i-D magazine, and sold out its initial run at Dashwood Books. When asked why he self-published his own book, Mitchell told Dazed that he felt it elevated the importance of his work. “I haven’t given up on the reblog-ready stuff, it has its place, but I’m just trying to cut through to something real,” he said. “I’m tired of everyone existing on their internet platform… Very few are actually inspiring.”
3. He Says He Uses Fashion to Tell a Story In His Photography
Authenticity is a large part of Mitchell’s process. “I depict black people and people of color in a really real and pure way,” he told The New York Times. “There is an honest gaze to my photos.” Many of Mitchell’s photos are characterized by their use of bright, saturated colors, which he described as a means of being unique.
When asked what he looks for when shooting, he told Crack Magazine: “Goofiness, but also… honesty and deep thought in the expression. I want portraits that look like I’ve placed my imprint on the subject and like the models are extensions of me.”
Elsewhere, in his Lomography interview, Mitchell spoke on the importance of using fashion to tell a story, as opposed to the other way around. “I don’t look at what I do as fashion photography all the time,” he said. “It’s probably how I’ve been branded and named and I’m okay with that because it allows me to work with interesting people, publications, and clothes all of which ultimately push an idea through photography. But to be honest I didn’t know what fashion photography was until a few months ago.”
“This whole time I have been using clothes to tell stories in my photography,” he continued. “But a lot of times fashion work uses photography to tell stories about clothing. I find that extremely boring and it’s a sad attempt to sell you on something rather than just be.”
3. He’s Directed Short Films for Clients Like Marc Jacobs & Givenchy
In addition to his photography, Mitchell has filmed advertisements for notable clients like Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, and American Eagle. According to his personal website, he has also done advertisement work for Mercedes Benz, Converse, Ray-Ban and Nike.
When shooting film, Mitchell has said that he prefers to use actual film stock as opposed to digital. “I think that as a generation, because we grew up with so many tools, it’s like swimming in just too big of an ocean,” he told This Generation. “So, maybe that’s why people are going back towards film. When you have too many options, when everything can be manipulated and lied about, in a way you just want to get back to some truth.”
Mitchell has cited photographers like William Eggleston, Viviane Sassen, Clayton Patterson, and Jamel Shabazz as some of his biggest influences.
5. He Says That He Doesn’t Buy Into the Notion of ‘Celebrity’
Despite having worked with popular musicians like Jaden Smith, Abra and Brockhampton, Mitchell has made a point of not being blinded by the power of celebrity. “These days photographers want to shoot celebrities so they have recognizable faces to add to their own portfolios, rather than to contribute to their aesthetic catalogues,” he told Complex Magazine.
“It’s just kinda snapping a photo; it’s not sitting down, forming that relationship, and constructing an image with someone,” he added. “That’s what I’m doing with people like Kevin Abstract [member of Brockhampton]. We’re sitting down and we’re talking about the creative details… That’s what I want to do for anyone else who is a good fit.”