Tyler Mitchell’s New York Photography Exhibit Focuses on Family

Once I walked into my family’s house to find it had been flooded. The water accumulated several centimeters deep because a pipe in the building had burst. My mother came in first, assessed the damage, turned to me and said, “Keep the pictures. Let the water take everything else.

In my family home, you couldn’t walk more than a meter without seeing an ancestor’s picture sitting in front of you on a glass table. There were portraits of great-aunts and great-grandparents from the Caribbean, descendants of slaves and slave owners, all the strands that make up our family line.

In photography The ancestors, Tyler Mitchell gives us a sense of the reverence that photography has long inspired. In the image, a woman adjusts her earring, a younger woman next to her adjusts her hair in the mirror – an intimacy that suggests they are part of the family. In front of them, portraits that suggest those who made their lives possible.

To photograph is to be in line. Here, Mitchell is aware of the legacy of Gordon Parks – the man who could show an interior and through him remind us of our belonging to one human family. Whether we take the photos ourselves or not, being there puts us all in a dance with our collective family – the human family – and time.

The photographs are for the future. We take them thinking they are for us, yet often their full value is found by people we will never meet. Keep the photographs. Let the water take anything else.

Above: Tyler Mitchell’s Ancestors photograph is on display at the Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville, NY until January 2. Mitchell also has exhibits at both Jack Shainman Gallery locations in Manhattan through October 30.

A version of this story appears in the November 2021 issue of Town & Country.

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Tracey L. Sweeney