All images by Tyler Shields. Used with permission.
Photographer Tyler Shields has been creating interesting and controversial photography for a couple of years now, and his most recent series called “Historical Fiction” is turning lots of heads in light of many of society’s recent social uprisings. The series is currently on display at the Andrew Weiss Gallery and has caught the eyes of the folks over at TMZ and People.
Tyler states that he has been working on the project since before the Ferguson riots that were all over headlines not too long ago, and includes specific social commentary about so many things in today’s America. “When people die now, its posted on Instagram, and then the next day everyone forgets about it.” says Tyler in our interview with him. “Things back then had more weight.”
We talked to Tyler about the inspiration for the series and putting it all together.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the inspiration behind the Historical Fiction project.
Tyler: A lot of it came from my childhood. Hearing about these moments that I was not alive for gave me an interesting view of history, and with this series, I was able to make up my own.
Phoblographer: How did you get the ideas for each individual scene? Were they storyboarded?
Tyler: They were story boarded in my mind–each image I saw perfectly before doing. “Historical Fiction” was a big undertaking. It took a long time and a lot of work and research to get all the props, clothing, papers, and all the rest that you need to put together something like this. This is unlike anything I have done before. It was very similar to making a movie in the sense that we had exact shots and we had to build sets and execute the scenes.
Phoblographer: A lot of your work has been all about the shock value and this is no different. Artists usually try to say something and express something in their work; what are you trying to get across?
Tyler: Shock is not something I think about as I am not shocked by any of it. I think its always interesting because you can never predict a response. A lot of people told me not to release the “Lynching” image because it was “too much,” yet after releasing it, they have been more than proven wrong. Not only has the photo caused a stir, but it also is one of my most loved photos. A lot of people have told me its “the most powerful photo” they have ever seen, which was the goal.
Phoblographer: Many of the scenes seem to take place during the Civil Rights movement, why did you choose this time period? Does it have anything to do with what we’re seeing in America right now with riots and the modern Feminist movement?
Tyler: I had the ideas and started putting it into motion before Ferguson, but as I have seen a lot of these things happen in the last few months, it has only made the images more powerful. This is not just something we used to deal with–this is something we ARE STILL dealing with, and that’s sad.
Phoblographer: You seem to focus a lot on death in this series: JFK, Monroe’s and King’s. Why specifically these deaths? What significance do they have to you personally?
Tyler: Those moments are iconic. When people die now, its posted on Instagram, and then the next day everyone forgets about it. Things back then had more weight. They had more of an effect on the world, and the way people got their news was a big part of that. I wanted to explore not only the idea of celebrity, but also the idea of how death impacted the world.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the image of the black man thrusting the American flag into the white man’s chest and the lynching scenes. Where did the inspiration for these come from and what significance do they have to the project as a whole?
Tyler: America is about freedom. Our flag was made by a group of men who rebelled against the biggest country in the world at that time, and not only did they fight, but they won, and a lot of people forget the true meaning of this country. America is not about hating people for the color of their skin, or where they are from, or what they believe in. Its about the idea of freedom, and I think that is a powerful tool to use. “Historical Fiction” was meant to tackle certain moments. The way it is hung in Andrew Weiss Gallery, the print next to the “American Flag” is a girl running from a plane. Its not about one moment, its about all of them.
Phoblographer: The little movie is fun and silly, but how does it relate back to the rest of the project?
Tyler: I didn’t want it to be dark. I wanted to just have a snap shot. The reason why its on a plane and why its happy is that it was the day we landed on the moon. The country was in pure joy. We won the space race and everyone was very happy about it.
Tyler Shield’s Historical Fiction is on view at Andrew Weiss Gallery through June 30, 2015.