A Poignant Portrait of a Childhood Friend

A Poignant Portrait of a Childhood Friend

In each installment of The Artists, T highlights a recent or little-shown work by a Black artist, along with a few words from that artist putting the work into context. This week, we’re looking at a piece by Tyler Mitchell, a photographer and filmmaker who focuses on Black subjects and is invested in creating a more equitable aesthetic culture.

Name: Tyler Mitchell

Age: 25

Based in: Brooklyn

Originally from: Atlanta

When and where did you make this work? I made this work on the roof of my first real apartment, on Avenue B in New York. I had a small two-bedroom, which I shared with my friend and (often) cinematographer on film projects, Owen Smith-Clark. This image is of my best friend, Santangelo Williams. Aside from being a complete creative genius, San is one of the first friends who came out to me growing up together in Georgia. For that and many other reasons, he’s always been an emblem of the ever-expanding notions of Black masculinity that I touch on in my work.

Can you describe what’s going on in it? San is standing beautifully and stoically in front of my lens in a knit tank top with a tear running down his face. The tear actually came from a crazy gust of wind, which just goes to show how happy accidents create poignant moments.

What inspired you to make this work? This took place in 2016, when I was in a moment of pure experimentation with fashion and portraiture of friends. I was dressing friends using what I had in my closet. I would take intimate portraits of them in my home or in areas of New York. I would often create little sets. This was born out of that early series of experiments in honest portraiture of friends.

What’s the work of art in any medium that changed your life? Earlie Hudnall Jr.’s “Cooling Down, 3rd Ward, Houston, Texas” (1997). Just the ease, but also the sensuousness that exists in that picture was a revelation for me and influenced a lot of my work.

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