Beauty in the Mundane: A Conversation with DeAndré Mitchell on Portraiture, Web3, and Sneakers
– interview JP Mavour
Where did art start for you?
I was always into the arts. My mom specifically pushed me to do anything I was even remotely interested in. She got me into reading, music, going to museums, sports, Broadway plays, etc. from an early age. Like, I used to play the violin pretty well — I’ve won contests, played in multiple concerts, in orchestras. One time I played at Columbia University for some academic virtuoso scouting thing which was pretty cool. But on the more personal side, I think art became prevalent because of needing to self-express — mostly through clothes at first.
Was photography your first form of expression? If not, what other media did you explore before that?
At first it was definitely the clothes, sneakers specifically. I lived in Queens but would travel basically everywhere else at a young age. My mom’s first few jobs were in Manhattan, my Dad always worked in Brooklyn, and I always went to school in Brooklyn up until high school.
I think because I had such mixed environments affecting me internally, I felt I had to express it externally, if that makes sense. So I was always wearing different things to brand myself as being different. That eventually led to other interests like gaming, science, skating, and eventually photography.
What made you want to be a photographer?
Funny story is, I started out as a videographer, not a photographer. My closest friends growing up were all creatives: DJ’s, rappers, audio engineers, party promoters, dancers, producers, etc. I on the other hand was the outlier. So instead of partaking, I took the role of documenting what went on around me. I might actually still have a few old videos up on YouTube from that era. But I stopped doing video ’cause I couldn’t pay for Adobe, and I would take photos instead. I hated digital photography so I stopped altogether until a homie gifted me a film camera years later.
Many people have artistic hobbies growing up, but very few people continue them into adulthood. What gave you the confidence to seriously pursue photography?
I’m not even too sure! I’ve done a lot of things and quit most of them. Photography has been the one thing that always kept coming back to me over time. I don’t see myself stopping, either, so might as well try to do it professionally [laughs].
What made you realize that photography was something you could do professionally?
This is such a simple, but loaded question for me. [laughs]. Two stories: First, I actually have a BS in Biology, okay boom. So I’m shooting a client that paid me for some headshots and we walk past this gallery. It was photo work, but of weird stuff like dumping empty trains into the ocean. Being a biologist, I think, “Oh, this is for coral reef restoration.” I walk in the gallery, look for the photographer, and come to find out he’s also a biologist and was indeed photographing coral reef restoration. Stephen Mallon, I believe — he opened me up to a world that bridges science and art, which was reassuring. Second story: A few years back when I started shooting again, I was shooting mainly sneakers. I wanted to be a retoucher for Nike but those dreams quickly ended, so I decided to learn how to shoot fashion and fine art instead.
I submitted work everywhere and got nothing in return, so I made a Photo Vogue account and submitted a few pictures there. Photo Vogue accepted almost every picture that I submitted to their archive. I think the first picture I uploaded got to the “Best Of” page, which picks the best ten or so photos from the week. So yeah, instant validation, that if someone at Vogue Italia likes my stuff then I can possibly make my mark.
Tell me about your latest collection of portraits: how long were you working on it, and what general themes were you working with? What was the process of picking which photographs would be made available in the collection like?
So the recent prints that I made were kind of a test — I wanted to test how much I can push certain elements in my B&W photography. I chose the pictures based off of those elements rather than if they were just something cool to look at. Rather than just taking traditionally composed photos, I took pictures of regular, mundane things in a way that you wouldn’t normally see them — or maybe you would, but only for a split second, or maybe it played back in my head as a distorted memory or dream. Putting a different spin and context on the word “regular.”
You could say the motif is finding beauty in the mundane. Each picture has its own story behind it, but I started the series after not being able to take a single photo for about three months. It took me another three months to shoot and handprint everything. It was also the first time seriously releasing cohesive prints.
Your Instagram name is Teesnd_sneaks. You have a highlight reel dedicated to sneakers on your profile, a page dedicated to them on your website. Could you tell me about your connection with sneakers? And where do T-shirts fit into all of this?
Sneakers changed my life. I’m not exactly from the best neighborhood in Queens, so buying and selling sneakers kept me off the streets for a bit and put money in my pocket. Sneaker culture itself introduced me to a lot of different art forms and reintroduced me to photography. Nothing too special about the T-shirts except that I don’t wear white ones and you kinda need a nice one to go with the kicks [laughs]. Sneakers are like my first girlfriend turned best friend. I still indulge in sneaker culture here and there — I even have a storage unit with a couple homies; we pool shoes and money together to get highly sought out stuff as investments.
What’s your connection with Web 3.0?
My connection with Web3 is fairly new — actually, I wouldn’t say I have a connection yet. I’m definitely taking my time to figure out the spaces I want to occupy and what I want to contribute to Web3 before I completely immerse myself. To give an answer right now though, I’ll probably try to work within the modes I already do art-wise and maybe explore some of my other interests like gaming.
How do you think Web 3.0 and NFTs, in particular, will affect art production and artists?
They’ve already done and proven so much in such little time. I mean, once everyone decides to adopt this technology it’s literally going to revolutionize how everything is done. NFTs put the power and rights into the artist’s hands while Web3 provides the space and safety net to do so, plus more. They definitely go hand in hand. I personally think NFTs are going to make a whole lot of artists quite rich. It’s really just about finding your niche within the space at this point.
Do you have an end goal for your art? If so, what is it?
I would love to either be represented by a few galleries or simply produce enough work to house in multiple galleries at all times. But my goal at the end of the day is to give back. Community structure is important to me, especially being Black. So of course I want to be successful as a photographer, but the world needs so much, and not just more art, you know? As success comes, I will figure out more ways to give back. At some point, I want my projects to be directly related to some social cause. Whether it be animal preservation, coral reef restoration, health & wellness seminars, school funding, or whatever I will be graced to get my hands in.
DeAndré Mitchell is a Brooklyn-born, New York City raised fashion and fine art photographer who seeks to capture the essence of living in the busiest, most money-driven city in the world. His work fixates on what it means to be a minority from New York and the need to express creativity through different mediums. Recently he’s been focusing on the technical aspects of photography, as well as on building his clothing and book archives.