In January 2020, Tyler Mitchell presented I Can Make You Feel Good at ICP as a declaration of joy and presence. Perhaps it was also foreshadowing. In these unprecedented times during a global pandemic and the fight for racial justice—for the survival of Black and Brown peoples around the world—ICP extends this exhibition until January 31, 2021, and invites the audiences to re-view the significance and potency of Mitchell’s work. In I Can Make You Feel Good, he posits great possibilities for a future of pleasure, power, and visibility and asks us to consider what a Black utopia could look like.
“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 aim to visualize what a Black utopia looks like or could look like. 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.
In my work, I use the tools of documentary reportage, portraiture, fashion photography, art photography, and filmmaking. I view fashion as a space where clothes can enhance my message about the Black body. I make very little distinction between my commissioned and my personal works, using them both as opportunities to create this utopian universe—whether that’s photographing Beyoncé, Spike Lee, skaters in Cuba, or my very close friends.
Documentary 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 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, for me, is gut punching in its optimism. It feels important at a time like this to declare such a thing.”
I Can Make You Feel Good is also a 206-page book that will be published by Prestel Books in spring 2021.
About the Author
Tyler Mitchell (American, b. 1995) is a photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, working across many genres to explore and document a new aesthetic of Blackness. Mitchell is regularly published in avant-garde magazines, commissioned by prominent fashion houses, and exhibited in top tier institutions.
In 2018 he made history as the first Black photographer to shoot a cover of American Vogue for Beyoncé’s appearance in the September issue. In 2019 a portrait from this series was acquired by The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery for its permanent collection. This, alongside many other accomplishments, has established Mitchell as one of the most closely watched up-and-coming talents in image making today.
His first solo exhibition ‘I Can Make You Feel Good’ at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam (2019) premiered video works including ‘Idyllic Space.’ An iteration of this show is now on view at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York.
Mitchell has lectured at a number of institutions on the politics of image making including Harvard University, Paris Photo and the International Center of Photography (ICP).
In 2020 Mitchell was announced as the recipient of the Gordon Parks Fellowship which will support a new project that reflects and draws inspiration from Parks’ central themes of representation and social justice. Mitchell’s fellowship will culminate in an exhibition of the new works at the Gordon Parks Foundation Gallery in Pleasantville, NY.
Selected publications include American Vogue, British Vogue, Teen Vogue, M Le Monde, i-D Magazine, AnOther Magazine, Dazed Magazine, Document Journal, The Guardian and The FADER- Selected clients include Comme des Garçons, Uniqlo, Calvin Klein, Prada, Apple, Mercedes Benz, Loewe, JW Anderson, Simone Rocha x Moncler, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Converse, Nike and Ray-Ban.