There’s a new generation of photographers who are redefining the lens that represents beauty and race within the world of fashion. Tyler Mitchel (aged 24) and Nadine Ijewere (aged 27) are two people of colour who are paving the way for a more inclusive industry.
Tyler is a Brooklyn based photographer, self described as “working across many genres to explore and document a new aesthetic of blackness.” He made history in 2018 for becoming both the youngest and the first African American photographer to shoot an American Vogue cover in 125 years. The September 2018 edition featured none other than Beyoncé and one of his photos was later acquired by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery for permanent display.
Tyler grew up in a middle class family in the suburbs of America’s southern capital, Atlanta Georgia; which he believes heightened his political consciousness due to the area’s rich history of racial and identity politics.
As a teenager Tyler was an avid skateboarder and the culture of shooting skate videos for YouTube ignited his interest film making. He moved to New York City for college in 2013 after being accepted into the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts.
Wanting to support himself with image making and not seeing a plan b, Tyler hustled. He fearlessly sent his work to prominent fashion magazines and used Instagram to connect with brands and other young creatives. This ruthless work ethic eventually landed him gigs with Dazed, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy and a spot in the Forbes 30 under 30 Art and Style 2019 list.
Unlike many artists, Tyler doesn’t view taking commercial work as creative sacrifice necessary to make a living. Instead, he treats working with large companies as an opportunity to change social norms through producing a more inclusive and diverse narrative.
Speaking about his 2017 American Eagle Campaign on The Business of Fashion podcast, Tyler said he took it as a way to reconstruct the narrative about what an American man could look like.
“When I was in the malls I didn’t see people who looked like me on those ads for American Eagle… they didn’t have curly hair, they didn’t have brown skin, they weren’t black,” he said.
“I would like for [my] images to re-shape how we view identity, how we view beauty.”
Similar to Tyler, Nadine Ijewere made Vogue history in 2019 as the first women of colour to ever photograph a British Vogue cover, which featured singer Dua Lipa. Speaking to the magazine, Nadine said the shoot meant a lot for her on a personal level in addition to what it has done for her career.
“When I was studying, there were virtually no female photographers of colour in this industry. I feel like in doing this I’m proving to younger girls from a similar background that it’s achievable,” she said to Vogue.
“As a girl, I never identified with anyone in the pages of magazines. Now, we’re sending a message that everyone is welcome in fashion. There are so many different types of beauty in the world. Let’s celebrate them all!”
Growing up Nadine planned on studying medicine until she fell in love with photography when taking it as her ‘fun’ subject alongside chemistry, biology, physics and maths in high school. This caused Nadine to switch out her STEM subjects for creative ones and enrol at the London College of Fashion.
Throughout her time studying Nadine adamantly refused to change the style of her work to conform with industry norms, and struggled with the concept of being graded on her art due to its subjective nature.
“Even back then I had no desire to produce work that would get me a job in the industry if it failed to speak to me. I also felt like so many images that I was seeing celebrated the same kind of ‘look’ over and over again,” she told Vogue.
“It was during my final year that I started casting mixed-race girls who fell outside the industry norm – and that became central to my work.”
This sentiment is evident in her photo series for Dazed, which celebrates non-caucasian hair types to dispel the idea that curly, natural hair is unprofessional.
“I just want to get rid of the idea that it [natural hair] is unprofessional. If you Google ‘professional hair’, you get white women with long straight hair, but if you put in ‘unprofessional’ you see afro hair. It’s important to tackle this sort of stigma,” she told Dazed.
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