What is the most important thing for you when capturing the black body?
“All the images in the book were collaborative with the subjects. In the 1990s, a lot of photographers — especially in the fashion space — were more dictator-like in their relationship to the models. With my approach, in being more open to a subject’s ideas, you automatically open up a conversation that is not supremacist, that is challenging the hierarchical infrastructures that photography enforces and that is immediately more black and brown. That is naturally the way I am — curious, collaborative and wondering. I am not the be-all and end-all here, but just one cog in the wheel. The onlooker is more important than any of us.”
Photographer Deborah Willis first noticed you as an undergraduate student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. In her essay in the book, she wrote: “I was fascinated with [Tyler’s] work because I saw how deeply committed he was to understanding images and later changing existing visual narratives about being black, male, creative and young.” How do you think your work has evolved since then?
“I’ve gone through a transformation from a kid making skateboard videos — [my work] was sports and style-based. I started to consider all of the autobiographical ideas about blackness and the identity of Black men and women in my community. In terms of the language, there are probably evolutions in the images that are just from my subconscious. People such as Deborah have watched me grow, and maybe the essays illustrate that to an extent, too.”
What do you want the onlooker to feel when they see your images?
“What I want has almost nothing to do with the onlooker and the book itself. It’s about what the onlookers and viewers take from the book and what they bring to it. I hope that in experiencing the book, there is an appreciation of the swarm of images in which the Black body is reclining in quiet moments of contemplation, but also in motion — in its very active state — and how all of those states of being can be freeing.”