It’s safe to say that the internet has shaped nearly every aspect of visual culture. This is particularly true for photography where it has changed how we make, share and read images. It’s influenced aesthetics, started trends and democratised commissioning in ways we could have never imagined twenty years ago.
Altanta-born photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell has a complicated relationship with the Internet. He values it and fears it in equal measure. Social gave him a platform to share his work, grow a likeminded community and be seen. At 22 he has worked with Converse, Ray-ban, Givenchy and recently shot for Marc Jacobs.
“Social was an obsession for me, but it engulfed me,” he says. “I got so deep into it and I was putting so much of myself into it, I had to pull back. My relationship to social changed, because I want my career to last.”
Mitchell’s work focuses on the intersection of youth culture and racial identity. He explores ideas about masculinity, vulnerability, freedom, self-love and sensuality in a way that values emotional honesty. In its purest sense, the work is a study of people.
Mitchell’s path to photography came through film. At 15, he was shooting skate videos with friends. “Skate culture was a place of discovery and exploration for me,” he explains. In a short space of time, he started working in the music industry, collaborating with up and coming talent like Kevin Abstract and Kelsey Lu, before moving to New York to study film.
“For me at first it felt awkward getting into photography,” he says. “When you study film, you’re taught not to tell people what to do. Just leading someone to something is better. On-set, I try and remain non-verbal. Keeping things loose and just letting it roll.”
Mitchell’s first self-published photo book El Paquete was a study of youth culture in Cuba on the brink of digital access. He spent a month on the island with 30 rolls of film and no connection to the outside world. The images are documentary in nature, with a particular focus on skate culture. This project garnered a lot of attention from magazines like Dazed and i-D and from their Mitchell’s photo career was born.
In the last six months, his work has matured significantly, moving from reportage to a more cinematic approach. His sensibility and motivations remain the same, but the aesthetic is more refined and the work has a stronger sense of authorship.
Earlier this year, Mitchell shot the AW campaign for Marc Jacobs in New York. He used the opportunity to start a conversation about gender roles. “I saw the collection and immediately thought about shooting boys in womenswear,” he says. “I thought about taking a brand like Marc Jacobs and setting a shoot up how [hip-hop group] Dipset might have in the 90s – a bunch of kids hanging around.” Mitchell was keen to make sure the cast was representative of his work, using a mix of friends, models and street cast locals. The images capture a boyish innocence which brings an interesting tension to the 90s hip-hop references in the collection.
Mitchell is always seeking out intimate moments. The small but telling details that often reveal more about a person or place. Rooted in his desire to connect in an honest and meaningful way with his subjects, he is constantly thinking about approach. “I read about Snowdon inviting people round for a coffee and a chat before he took their photograph. I love that, it sounds nice,” he says.
In addition to his fashion work, Mitchell has been shooting editorials for Dazed, Fader and Nii Journal. His revealing story on Spike Lee for Office Magazine demonstrated his ability to tell a multi-layered narrative through his portraits: “Shooting Spike Lee was the most intense hour of my life.”
Through his work, Mitchell is creating a space to start a dialogue about modern masculinity. His open and intuitive approach has allowed him to navigate the commercial world while staying true to his values. “For me, I think that’s what I’m about, staying open and doing the unpredictable,” Mitchell says.