Tyler Mitchell looks closer to home in new series

A string of new exhibitions includes the photographer’s new project, Dreaming in Real Time, which examines the nuances of space in the American South

Brooklyn-based photographer Tyler Mitchell, known for his remarkable images that drift between fashion photography and social commentary, is the focus of a double bill of exhibitions at two Jack Shainman Gallery venues in New York City, along with a third at the Gordon Parks Foundation further upstate.

One of the Jack Shainman exhibitions focuses on his landmark series I Can Make You Feel Good, which depicts “portraiture work that focused on my ideas around a Black visual utopia,” Mitchell told CR last year.

Running in tandem is an exhibition of his new project, Dreaming in Real Time, which examines the pleasure and politics of space in the American South. The project was made in his home state of Georgia after the easing of travel restrictions during the pandemic finally allowed him to return home to see his family.

Top: Nap, 2021. Above: Time for a New Sky, 2020. All images courtesy of the artist/Jack Shainman Gallery
Albany, Georgia, 2021

The sun-drenched series visualises bucolic and suburban settings as the site of Black joy and relaxation. The body of work is partly about showing Black people “command a certain vastness of landscape”, Mitchell told the Financial Times, and this concept has resulted in some of his most striking compositions yet.

Dreaming in Real Time also interrogates the relationship between space and discrimination, namely the practice of redlining in the US, which determined (or rather denied) access to housing, voting rights and financial services in areas and neighbourhoods broadly made up of people of colour. Mitchell evokes these legacies by weaving boundaries into the images, from tangled balloon strings to the more explicit use of markings on the ground and even skin.

Mitchell’s previous presentations of I Can Make You Feel Good have made use of scale and texture, a thread picked up in Dreaming in Real Time. The exhibition features a panoramic display of his photograph Vastness, the scene wrapped around one of the exhibition spaces to emphasise the sense of scale implied by its title. Elsewhere, images are displayed on a clothesline – a recurring motif in his work.

Riverside Scene, 2021
Connective Tissue, 2021

While his shows at Jack Shainman focus on outdoor spaces, his exhibition at the Gordon Parks Foundation (which followed Mitchell receiving the foundation’s 2020 fellowship) looks firmly to the domestic environment. The body of work, named An Imaginative Arrangement of the Things Before Me, examines intergenerational relationships and identity, drawing on archival family portraits, domestic objects, and Gordon Parks’ photographs of Black families.

The show has been curated by historian, photographer and writer Deborah Willis, who taught Mitchell at NYU. “She’s all about this idea of beauty intersecting with portraiture and identity, and Blackness, and basically all the things I’m kind of about now,” he told us.

In a statement about the exhibition, Mitchell said: “I want to consider the significance of a proverbial domestic space not only as a site of Black life itself but also as a site where desires, longing, and collective family memory exist. I hope to create a comforting and tender space for people to go and escape into.”

Ancestors, 2021

Dreaming in Real Time and I Can Make You Feel Good are on display at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York until October 30; jackshainman.com