When Tyler Mitchell’s (b. 1995) debut monograph, I Can Make You Feel Good, came out in 2020, it cemented his place as one of the most innovative young image-makers working today. The New York-based artist, who trained as a filmmaker, made history in 2018 as the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue with an image of Beyoncé when he was just 23 years old.
Since then, Mitchell’s practice has moved from magazine pages to museum walls as the artist has developed a vision for what he describes as a “Black utopia.” This is a projected future, a world in which Black people aren’t persecuted or objectified, but exhibit moments of joy – relaxing with friends, eating sweets, hula-hooping, embracing – almost always bathed in sunshine.
It is remarkable that this type of photography, presenting care- free happiness, could be seen as revolutionary – yet it is, and the works ripple with poetry and possibility. Mitchell’s latest show, Cultural Turns, part of Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, brings images into the gallery and outdoors throughout Toronto, giving passersby the chance to witness what curator Mark Sealy OBE calls: “The jazz of Mitchell’s work.” This, he adds, “keeps alive in the eye the beauty and vastness of all those voices that have contributed to the polychromatic nature of Black experiences.”
Emblazoned large-scale on billboard sites usually reserved for the profit-driven, idealised “capitalist realism” of advertising (to quote Michael Hudson), Mitchell’s images feel like portals. This might be the first time that these public spaces encounter the work of this outstanding talent – but it won’t be the last.
Contact Gallery, Toronto | Until 30 June
1. Tyler Mitchell, Time for a New Sky, 2020. © Tyler Mitchell. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
2. Tyler Mitchell, Untitled (Toni), 2021. © Tyler Mitchell. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
3. Tyler Mitchell, Untitled (Crossroads), 2021. © Tyler Mitchell. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
4. Tyler Mitchell, Riverside Scene, 2021. © Tyler Mitchell. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.