tyler mitchell: the boy who shook up the status quo

August 31, 2018

words by: Kirana Ardhia


It has been one hell (or heaven) of a season for Vogue. The moment they decided to make Beyoncé the cover star for their September issue, or also known as the most anticipated volume of the year, they knew they just had to give Queen Bey complete creative control over her appearance in the magazine. Meaning she would write her own “long-form captions,” create A-to-Z planning about how the whole campaign would turn out and, most importantly, choose who will photograph her.

His name is Tyler Mitchell. He is 23 years old. And he just made history. As if being one of the youngest photographers to have shot the cover of Vogue is not remarkable enough of a feat (despite the fact that it is already 2018 and it shouldn’t be), he is leaving legacies by being the first African-American photographer to ever achieve the unprecedented in the magazine’s 126-year history (where in an alternate universe he also wouldn’t be). 

Before dedicating his career full time as a photographer and filmmaker in Brooklyn, New York, Tyler Mitchell was first a self-proclaimed skater. He started by making skate videos and shooting the music, fashion and youth culture scene in Atlanta, where he grew up.

Tyler is not a stranger to the Knowles family, as he has previously captured Solange’s performance-art piece at the Hammer Museum. His impressive résumé also includes a long list of formidable names and publications as his clients: Spike Lee, actress Zazie Beetz, Lil Uzi Vert, The FADER, DAZED, Teen Vogue (for March for Our Lives feature) and brands like Nike, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Converse, among others.

Lil Uzi Vert for The Fader (left), Zazie Beets for Vogue's May 2018 issue (right)

Tyler takes real-life experiences as his main source of inspiration and his work in general often explores and captures black masculinity and youth in its most vulnerable and rawest moments. He imagines an idyllic state where black men could experience the same freedom as white men. In an interview with Vogue, Mitchell said that “For so long, black people have been considered things, we’ve been thingified physically, sexually, emotionally. With my work, I’m looking to revitalize and elevate the black body.” In another interview with New York Times, Tyler stated that he “depicts black people and people of color in a really real and pure way.”

There is something sublime about the pictures. A very ethereal setting, minimal make up, white linens, floral and gold headpieces. It is Tyler’s aesthetic. There is always a sense of fantasy in his photographs – a utopian dreamlike space. Colors very vivid yet very subdued at the same time. It was clear what he wanted to portray: A woman, in her own confident beauty and feeling powerful. He was trying to be honest, and he succeeded at it.

So much more than just a cover of a magazine, it is an unfortunate reminder of how narrow the society’s approach and view of the real world can be. It is also a celebration. He wants to create something that you have never quite seen before, he wants to use art to wake people up and it is truly a long overdue wake-up call. He is not looking to conform to the norm, and maybe a brilliant rebel is just what we need right now.



Visit Tyler’s Instagram and check out some more of his work here.