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The BoF Podcast: Tyler Mitchell’s Journey From Skateboarding to Photographing Beyoncé

Speaking in conversation with Imran Amed, the photographer behind Beyoncé's September 2018 Vogue cover talks identity, social media and how he found his way into fashion photography.
Tyler Mitchell | Photo: Tyler Mitchell

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Tyler Mitchell is arguably peerless in his accomplishments; he is one of the youngest photographers and first African-American photographer to shoot a cover for Vogue — the September 2018 issue featuring Beyoncé, no less. But his pathway to becoming culturally, politically and artistically engaged is one with which many Millennials can identify. Born in 1995, the self-confessed "Youtube kid" grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta with Tumblr and skateboarding, which provided both a community and a way into image-making.

However, that is just one facet of Mitchell's identity. The question, "what does it mean to be black, middle-class and growing up in the South with the internet?" is one he has revisited since his photography career has taken off, particularly as his projects became more politically charged with discourse surrounding police and gun violence in 2015 and 2016. As such, he was poised to be the one who lensed Emma Gonzalez for Teen Vogue's gun control issue.

Like many emerging photographers, grappling with commercial versus creative work is "always a balancing act" for Mitchell, but along we the practical benefits of commercial projects he sees the potential for reshaping conventions of beauty and identity. Take, for example, his short film project for American Eagle, which he also starred in: "I took [it] as a way to make a narrative of what an American man could look like. When I was in the mall I didn't see people who looked like me; they didn't have curly hair, they didn't have brown skin. They weren't black."

With his impressive range of projects under his belt, Mitchell is at once a seasoned photographer and only just starting out in his career. For him, the creative energy of a photoshoot and the set of people that make a finished product is "insane. I'm still learning that now."

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