Tyler Mitchell ICMYFG by Studio Lin
Text by Richard Baird.
“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 the same for Black people in images – or at least in the photography I knew. 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.
I aim to visualize what a Black utopia looks like or could look like. People say utopia is never achievable but I love photography’s possibility of allowing me to dream and make that dream become very real.
In my work I use the tools of documentary reportage, portraiture, fashion photography, art photography, and filmmaking. I view fashion as a space and opportunity to have clothes enhance my message about the Black body. I make very little distinction between my commissioned and my personal works, using them both as an opportunity to create this utopian universe – whether that’s photographing Beyoncé, Spike Lee, skaters in Cuba, or my very close friends.
Documented and real, or fictitious and staged, 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.
I Can Make You Feel Good is simply a declaration. And one that I feel is gut punching in its optimism. It feels important at a time like this to declare such a thing.” — Tyler Mitchell
Aside from taking pictures, Tyler Mitchell eloquently articulates through words, the ideas, thoughts, themes and politics present in his work. That he delivers these confidently and at length through social media channels (those that he grew up with) displays a confidence to explore nuance and warmth in spaces that have trained many to see but not look, to move (one post to the next) but not be moved. Studio Lin, in their design approach to Tyler’s first monograph have created a material assembly that best presents these images and then manifests further their atmosphere. The generators of atmosphere are spatial, textural and edgeless. Fingers intersecting the images involve the reader directly with Tyler’s intimate, optimistic and immersive vision.
Full bleed images, the absence of white space and a flat bound book facilitates moments of contrast, and unbroken image. In some ways, it subverts the power and control of the art book. The absence of “white space” becomes political, not just in its verbal expression and literal reading, but in its association with the white space of the gallery, or the white space of the art book.
White space becomes a form of control, be it the narrativising, curatorial and spatial control of a gallery, or the editorial or design oversight applied to the work in the arrangement of the page. The white space of the page, the space between images, simplification to intensify (politicise further) image, become the gestures and power inherent in others, less so the emerging artist. This is is where the assembly of the book becomes a syntactical element, a detail to be felt, not read, and rooted in the ideas of the artist, rather than that of the studio. A further example would be the way that the format of full bleed images, without captions, furthers the artist’s desire not to delineate between what would be considered either professional or personal imagery. This is the kind of work that requires a sensitive hand on the part of the designers, not to inadvertently apply anything of themselves in the presentation of the works, only furthering that which already exists within the body of work. More work by Studio Lin on BP&O.
I Can Make You Feel Good, is a 206-page book. It features photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell’s vision of a Black utopia, unifying and expanding upon his first solo exhibition that took place at the International Center of Photography in New York. The book features texts by Hans Ulrich Obrist (Artistic Director, Serpentine Galleries), Mirjam Kooiman (Curator, Foam) and Isolde Brielmaier (Curator-at-Large, ICP) whose voices seek to explore the cultural prevalence of Mitchell’s reimagining of the Black experience.