"New" Artists for a New Art World
Andrew Jacobs combines still-life and portraiture, effectively blurring the lines between object and human. In the same vein, Pat Martin positions portraits of older women with fruit, dead roses, and children, invoking the cycles of rebirth and time. As you peruse the large cavernous space that is Red Hook Labs, a couple sets might particularly strike you. One of those is by Christopher Smith, whose self portraiture constituting of images of his bloody face, boxing gloves raised in limp defense, hangs next to a smiling toothless portrait. As Tyler Mitchell, shooter of our Spike Lee cover story for issue 07, and exhibition participant says, “photography should be a gut punch.” Smith’s work certainly is.
- Photo by Christopher Smiths and Marcus Schaffer, respectively.
So is Mitchell's, but in a not so superficially distressing way. Shot in Cuba, New York and California, the set is rich with the sense of saturated mystery and beckoning for a visceral reaction – the kind of narrative Mitchell is interested in, as opposed to the “house, people, drama“ narrative so often forced on photography. Speaking on his work, Mitchell also conveys that, “on some level it's me trying to say “Hey here's my lived experience.” Which is usually that black men are not viewed in the way they should be. It's operating on that level but it's also operating on the level that this is what I want and am hoping for. It's both of those.”
But Tyler Mitchell knows that it's also not that simple. He knows that it is not enough to make black bodies the subject of his work, but instead, needs to be saying something more. Referencing Arthur Jafa, Mitchell relates that “putting a black person in a picture isn't necessarily black photography and it's not necessarily what Arthur calls black cinema. Imagery of black folks, which is what I'm making, it has to have something there.. It has to raise us above the level of being things.” While an incredibly paradoxical endeavor considering that pictures themselves are objects, Mitchell has never shied away from the work. The result is a particularly poignant “gut punch” – a manifestation of his courageous ability to not look away from the truth of his own reality and the hope that he has for the future.
- Photographs by Tyler Mitchell
And there is really no better place for the fruits of his labor to have arrived for public consumption because Red Hook Labs is not like many galleries. In fact, through their workshops and youth programs they have managed to do something we, including Mitchell, have not seen before. In addition to providing photography equipment and education to youth who may not have access, “what they're doing is showing kids ‘Oh here's a kid who looks like me, who acts like me who is kind of my age and being commissioned to take photos, maybe I could do the same thing.’” As Mitchell points out, photography has so long been a “rich man's art”. But with a young impassioned creative by the side of an art institution not (entirely) focused on money, that may be starting to change. If Mitchell keeps moving the way he is, and speaking as candidly as he does, it seems that things may change pretty fast. Finally.
- Red Hook Labs "New Artists" will be on view June 13-24, 2018. Open daily, 10-6 pm