Poised against a white column littered with orchids, Beyoncé seems otherworldly, a mirage of gossamer and gold, in a historic image shot by then-23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell. Now, this photograph will be immortalized as it enters the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.
Last year, Mitchell made history and headlines as the first black photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue, when his intimately ethereal photos of Beyoncé graced the magazine’s September 2018 issue. He got a boost from the legendary singer, who personally selected him as her photographer.
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A year ago today we broke the flood gates open. 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
“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,” Beyoncé said in extended captions for the issue. “Clearly that has been proven a myth. Not only is an African American on the cover of the most important month for Vogue, this is the first ever Vogue cover shot by an African American photographer.”
She continued, “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, to present a different point of view for people who may feel like their voices don’t matter.”
The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery is home to more than 23,000 portraits, displaying American icons like Rosa Parks and the complete collection of presidential portraits, including the idiosyncratic presidential paintings of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
In this particular photo, Beyoncé wears a Valentino dress and a Philip Treacy hat.
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