Now that several years have gone by, the Vogue cover shots of Beyoncé remain Mitchell’s best-known work. Casual observers in the metro Atlanta area could be forgiven for wondering what the young photographer went on to do next.
In the world of fine art and fashion photography, Mitchell’s star has only brightened. The quality and historical significance of those Beyoncé portraits were recognized when a photograph from the series was acquired by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery for its permanent collection in 2019. The same year, Mitchell held a solo exhibition called “I Can Make You Feel Good” at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, one of the world’s preeminent photography galleries. A version of the exhibition was later displayed at the International Center for Photography in New York in 2020.
In an interview with The New York Times about his first solo show, Mitchell said the name of the exhibition was inspired by the soundtrack at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. On his way to Amsterdam by way of the Atlanta airport, he described sitting in the concourse, feeling some doubt about the label of “fine art photographer,” when he found himself enjoying a 1982 song by R&B group Shalamar.
“I Can Make You Feel Good,” the title and refrain of the song, also became the name of his exhibition, despite the protestations of the museum, Mitchell told the Times.
While Mitchell has been making history as a Black artist, he has never shied away from race in his work. According to his website, he considers Black identity to be one of his main subjects, seeking to “explore and document a new aesthetic of Blackness.”
In “I Can Make You Feel Good,” he sets Black subjects in brightly colored, natural environments. Their figures are often relaxed, playing or involved in some form of leisure. Mitchell’s work has drawn comparisons to the themes explored by painter Kehinde Wiley, the presidential portraitist for Barack Obama. Coincidentally, the former president’s portrait is on display at the High Museum of Art alongside Amy Sherald’s portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama through March 20.
Following the success and acclaim of “I Can Make You Feel Good,” Mitchell was selected for the prestigious Gordon Parks Fellowship in 2020 in support of his subsequent project. Inspired by the early work of Gordon Parks, who rose to prominence as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration in the 1940s and LIFE Magazine through the 1970s, Mitchell produced an exhibition called “An Imaginative Arrangement of the Things Before Me.”
The foundation describes Mitchell’s exhibition, which ran from September through December at the foundation’s gallery in Pleasantville, New York, as a reimagining of “the collective histories of the African Diaspora and Black migration as a family portrait.”
Mitchell’s fellowship did not prevent him from taking on other splashy projects. His work entered the zeitgeist once again when his photo of Kanye West in a tank-like vehicle covered the front of GQ magazine. Outside of fine art photography, Mitchell also added to his list of commercial clients by working with a number of the world’s most respected brands, including Apple, Mercedes Benz, Adidas, Prada and Calvin Klein.
Mitchell’s thoughtful, modern and informed take on Black identity has placed him in high demand with global brands seeking to diversify their appeal and cater to previously neglected demographics. In the meantime, the 26-year-old continues to gather acclaim from the art world for work of subtlety and beauty that nonetheless carries powerful social commentary.
For most people, though, the world of extremely high-end commercial and fine art photography is not a daily concern, hence the reason it is unusual for photographers to become household names, like Ansel Adams or Annie Liebowitz.
But for those in metro Atlanta who felt a dose of second-hand pride in seeing a young artist from the area make history with his Vogue cover, here’s what is important to know: Mitchell is doing great, and you can still be proud.