I once walked into my family’s home to find it had been flooded. Water many inches deep pooled because a pipe in the apartment building had burst. My mother went in first, assessed the damage, turned to me, and said, “Save the photographs. Let the water take anything else.”
In my family home, you could not walk more than three feet without seeing a photograph of an ancestor laid out in front of you on a glass table. There were portraits of great-aunts and great-grandparents who had come from the Caribbean, descendants of the enslaved and of slave-owners both—all the strands that make up our family line.
In the photograph 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 beside her adjusts her hair in the mirror—an intimacy that suggests they are family. In front of them are portraits that suggest those who have made their lives possible.
To photograph is to be in lineage. Here, Mitchell is mindful of the legacy of Gordon Parks—the man who could show an interior and through it remind us of our belonging to one human family. Whether or not we take photographs ourselves, the act of being in them puts us all in a dance with our collective family—the human family—and time.
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. Save the photographs. Let the water take anything else.
Above: Tyler Mitchell’s photograph Ancestors is on display at the Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville, NY, through January 2. Mitchell also has exhibits at the two Jack Shainman Gallery locations in Manhattan through October 30.
A version of this story appears in the November 2021 issue of Town & Country.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io