What We Learned This Week: Historic Beyonce Portrait Goes to Nat. Portrait Gallery

By David Schonauer   Friday August 16, 2019

It was ground breaking.

And now photographer Tyler Mitchell’s portrait of Beyoncé Knowles — one of several Mitchell created with the music star for American Vogue's September issue last year — is  going to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

When the photograph appeared, Mitchell became the first African-American photographer and one of the youngest to shoot a cover for Vogue, noted The New York Times. “A year ago today we broke the flood gates open,” Mitchell wrote at Instagram in announcing the acquisition. “Since then it was important to spend the whole year running through them making sure every piece of the gate was knocked down. And now I’m glad to share this picture is being acquired into the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.”

The gallery responded to Mitchell’s announcement ecstatically, replying, “We're just so crazy in love with her that we had to do it!”

The National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution, confirmed that the acquisition of the image, although it does not yet know when it will be exhibited to the public, reported CNN.

The media was nearly as ecstatic as the museum about the acquisition. Even Vogue archival Harper’s Bazaar joined in the praise, calling Mitchell’s photographs of Beyoncé “intimately ethereal.”

As we noted last year, Beyoncé used her cultural clout to secure the Vogue job for Mitchell. “When I first started, 21 years ago, I was told that it was hard for me to get onto covers of magazines because black people did not sell,” she wrote in the issue. “Clearly that has been proven a myth.”

She added, “It’s important to me that I help open doors for younger artists. There are so many cultural and societal barriers to entry that I like to do what I can to level the playing field.”

Leslie Ureña, associate curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, told The Times that since 2013, the museum’s leadership had made a conscious effort to ensure 50 percent of its acquisitions feature subjects or artists that make the museum’s collections more diverse. At Twitter, the museum noted that its mission is “to tell the story of America by portraying the people who shape this nation’s history, development, and culture.”

Mitchell’s portrait is not the first image of Beyoncé to appear at the museum, noted The Times: a color photolithographic halftone promotional poster for Beyoncé’s 2003 album “Dangerously in Love” currently hangs in the “20th Century Americans: 2000 to Present” gallery of the museum. The poster, shot by Markus Klinko and Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri, was a gift to the museum in 2012 from the Chisholm-Larsson Gallery in Manhattan.

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:

1. Highlight Entries From the American Photography Open 2019 Competition

On Tuesday we spotlighted three entries from the American Photography 0pen 2019 competition that got raves from judges in July. Among them: a picture from photographer Rory Doyle, whose documentary project about African American cowboys in the Mississippi Delta has won wide praise. His entry, titled "The Newest Cowboy in Town," features one of his longtime subjects, Jessie Brown, holding his newborn son Jestin. "Jessie has been an instrumental figure in my project," said Doyle. "We stay in touch and I continue to photograph moments in his life.” The deadline for entering the contest is August 31.

2. AI-Augmented Roses and "Pornosynthesis"

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But what about a rose that's been photographed with an iPhone and then turned into large-format artwork with the use of artificial intelligence? That, we noted, is what noted fashion photographer Nick Knight did to create a series of sumptuous pictures now on view at Albion Barn, Oxfordshire, UK. While his roses (above) are suffused with a beauty derived from digital technology, the work links to centuries of imagery. We also featured photographer Catherine Losing and art director Robert Graves-Morris’s series “Pornosynthesis,” which reveals the smuttier side of flowers.

3.  Images from Kashmir, a Land Now in Lockdown

India’s Hindu nationalist government recently erased the autonomy of the one Muslim-majority state in India, Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the Kashmir Valley, and Indian soldiers rolled in to barricade roads, close schools, cut off the internet, mobile phone service and even landlines. Despite the crackdown, protests have erupted, noted The New York Times, which featured images from Indian photographers, including Atul Loke (above) and Rakesh Bakshi, who managed to work around the communication blockade.

4. David T. Hanson Turns from the Toxic to the Sacred

Photographer David T. Hanson is known for his images of an American landscape laid waste by industry and the military. The work has been used to support environmental legislation, but it also took an emotional and physical toll on the artist. In his new book, The Cloud of Unknowing, Hanson offers a counterpoint to toxic modern culture: Between 1998 and 2011, he traveled across the United States and South Asia photographing sacred spaces representing a diversity of cultures and faiths.

5. This Travel Photographer Sees a Pastel World

Viewing the world through the eyes of Lisbon-based photographer Teresa Freitas is like stepping into a candy-colored wonderland — or, noted My Modern Met, a film by director Wes Anderson. Freitas digitally edits her raw photographs (of everything from a military parade in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to the beautiful thermal baths in Budapest, Hungary) to achieve her distinct, pastel-tinted aesthetic. “I started to realize just how much you could work with color to shape an image and give a subtle strangeness to a place,” she said.
At top: From Nick Knight


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