Tyler Mitchell is a young artist who, through his versatile work and photographs, has become one of the representatives of a novel, fresh wave in photography. He still enjoys directing films and truly believes in their magic. In an interview for our magazine, Tyler speaks about his beginnings and the challenges he faced during his career, as well as about what motivates him to create and what made him fall in love with analogue photography.
You were very young when you moved from Atlanta to New York. How did your life change when you changed the address where you lived? Was that a necessary challenge for you in order to enhance your career?
It really doesn’t matter. I always say New York is just another place to make art only this time everyone around you when you go out is true eat off of you. So really what moving did was sharpen me to who to really work with and trust. You get used to everyone at parties saying “Hey! Let’s get up!” “Hey we should make something, what’s your number?” but you start to understand yourself better based on what you choose to do in NYC and with who. And you start to prioritize finding honest friends and keeping them around you cause it’s all you’ve got.
What did your beginnings in photography look like? What encouraged you to share your vision of the world with others in this way?
My beginning started with skateboarding in Atlanta and shooting photos and videos of my friends. I was terrible but you begin to just tell people you’re a photographer until it actually happens. People wanna bring you along, they want their picture taken, it starts snowballing once you tell someone that you shoot. When I moved to New York I quit skating. I couldn’t keep it up with school. But I kept taking pictures and making little films. So it took off. I always drawn to creative types.
What was the first camera you used at the beginning of your career? What, in your opinion, makes a good photo?
It was an old Canon DSLR. I don’t remember which one. It got stolen at a skate park. Fuck that guy. A good picture creates a world.
How do you perceive the increasing expansion of photographers in the last couple of years? How hard was it for you, as a young artist, to create a unique shooting style
that you will be recognized by?
I love that there are more photographers now. People are so up in arms about it. I don’t know why. I love it! The good stuff still goes to the top. The bad stuff still has room for improvement. If making art is a trend I’d rather it be that than something else. As I said, the good stuff rises to the top.
We are the witnesses of the time dominated by social networks. How important is it for artists nowadays to brand themselves and present their work in this manner?
It’s all so a part of the language now that there is no way to perceive social media. It’s like walking outside your door. It’s mainstream. I was a lot deeper in the internet when it was weirder to be and a lot of kids in my school would judge me for it. But now when so much is based on Instagram and things like that, they understand.
You did a series of analogue photos in Cuba where you presented the local scene of skateboarders. How did your love towards skateboarding inspire this project in
Cuba and your desire to present it from a different angle?
This project really happened through the law of attraction. You get drawn towards what you are — and I began as a skateboarder. Although I’m not one any longer I understood what was going on and Cuba and said to myself “this needs to be documented.” I made such a bond with the skaters that they would introduce me to the entire growing community. We played games of skate. It was all very natural. And it seems like people can understand that from the photos. When I tell people I was in Cuba for a month they always say it felt that way by looking at the pictures.
Your work is very versatile because, among other things, you do fashion photography. What inspires you regarding fashion?
I don’t look at what I do as fashion photography all the time. It’s probably how I’ve been branded and named and I’m okay with that because it allows me to work with interesting people, publications, and clothes all of which ultimately push an idea through photography. But to be honest I didn’t know what fashion photography was until a few months ago. Or that my work was considered “fashion” until someone critiquing my work in Cuba. They told me “you must come from a fashion background” and then it all came to me. This whole time I have been using clothes to tell stories in my photography. But a lot of times fashion work uses photography to tell stories about clothing. I find that extremely boring and it’s a sad attempt to sell you on something rather than just be.
You have had the opportunity to shoot some celebrities. How much, if at all, does the work with them differ from the work with people who are not part of the celebrity
Absolutely nothing. My hands get clammier sometimes because they’re really cool people. I think I’m done with this idea of “celebrity” though. Sometimes it works because of who’s in the photo but I want you paying attention to the photo itself.
Apart from being a photographer, you successfully produce and direct films. How hard is it to create films nowadays and to provide a quality production for them?
Where do you find the inspiration for the themes you deal with in your films?
Honestly, I think films and short films definitely are dying. Less and less is it looking like an industry that I want to be a part of? People attention spans are lessening and movies are only getting more and more poisonous and unable to be original. I know this is a grim point of view but I just miss 2010 - 2014 where finding cool short films and videos on the internet was really cool and you felt like you had a secret nobody else has. Now everyone is ruined and predetermined to not watch something. I want my art to be seen ultimately.
Talking about films, what attracted you to analogue photography and made you continue shooting on film?
I found film photography through my friend Places Plus Faces who shoots intimate portraits of rappers exclusively on film. I thought this was beautiful and wanted to take it more in my direction. Now I don’t even know how to take a digital picture. It’s creepy to me.
What projects are you currently working on and what can we expect from you in the future?
Book 2 this year.
Thank you, Tyler! All photographs shown in this article were used by the permission of Tyler Mitchell. If you want to see more of his work, follow Tyler Mitchell on instagram, or check out his website.