Jack Mitchell (photographer)

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Self portrait. Jack Mitchell

Jack Mitchell (September 13, 1925 – November 7, 2013) was an American photographer and author best known for his photographs of American artists, dancers, film and theatre performers, musicians and writers.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Mitchell was born in Key West, Florida in 1925;[3] his family moved to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, in 1932. He started photography at eleven, as the darkroom assistant to his sister. He then moved on to taking his own photographs, and was soon contributing photographs to the Daytona News Journal and New Smyrna Beach News.[4] He earned his living from photography since he was fifteen, when his first nationally published photograph, a portrait of his oil painting instructor, appeared in The Complete Photographer.

In 1950, four years after completion of duty as a public relations photographer for the U.S. Army in Florence and Venice, Mitchell moved from Florida to New York City. The dancer and choreographer Ted Shawn suggested that he concentrate on photographing dance and dancers. The recommendation proved fortuitous as that work provided an avenue to his later success photographing creative and performing artists of all disciplines.


From 1960 to 1970, Jack Mitchell was the official photographer for the American Ballet Theatre, taking all the photographs for their souvenir program books. He also photographed the Boston Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, the Martha Graham Dance Company, New York City Ballet and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.[4] He has photographed most of the world's leading dance companies for The New York Times and for Dance Magazine.

Mitchell is possibly best known for his numerous special assignment photographs for the Arts and Leisure section of The New York Times from 1970 to 1995. When he closed his New York studio on December 17, 1995, The Times published a full-page illustrated article about his work and career. Within it, Annette Grant wrote:

Mr. Mitchell, one of the premier arts photographers of our day, is retiring at age 70 and moving back to his home state, Florida. . . . . [His work] has included 5,240 assignments in black and white alone. He hasn't kept track of the color, but there have been 163 covers for Dance magazine and four books.[5]

John Lennon and Yoko Ono[edit]

Cover of the December 1980 People. Photo by Jack Mitchell

Mitchell's portrait of musicians John Lennon and Yoko Ono was used on the cover of the December 1980 Lennon Memorial edition of People. The photo was taken in Mitchell's home studio and first published on November 9, 1980, a month before Lennon was killed.[6] John Yau commented:

In his tender portraits of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which Mitchell took just a few weeks before Lennon was murdered, he has elicited a side of them that was seldom seen, except perhaps by their closest friends. Attentive to their pose, their faces, and even to the texture of their skin and clothes, he infuses his photographs with a palpable tactility. Sensing that we could (and of course we cannot) reach out and touch the weave of Lennon's sweater and Ono's scarf is what makes his photographs of them all the more moving. Around Mitchell, both Lennon and Ono let down their guard. Full of charm we always knew was there, Lennon mugs for the camera, while Ono looks at him both protectively and lovingly. In all of Mitchell's photographs from this session, something of Lennon's touching shyness and Ono's tough-minded sweetness comes through.[7]

Twelve of Mitchell's photographs of Lennon and Ono appear in Ono's book John Lennon: Summer of 1980.[n 1]


In the 1960s, Mitchell published the photobooks American Dance Portfolio[n 2] and, for younger readers, Dance Scene U.S.A.: America's Greatest Ballet and Modern Dance Companies in Photographs.[n 3]

Mitchell is the author of Icons and Idols: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Arts, 1960–1995,[n 4][8][9] which has been called “a stunning exhibition of 137 black and white photographs featuring icons of American culture”.[10][n 5]

Mitchell's book on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is published as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Jack Mitchell Photographs.[n 6]

Permanent collections[edit]

In 2008, the Smithsonian Institution announced that Mitchell had donated to it "54 large-format photographs of painters and sculptors taken in New York City between 1966 and 1977"; John W. Smith, director of the Archives of American Art, commented that “Jack’s images greatly enhance our already important holdings of artist’s portraits and we look forward to sharing these images with scholars and researchers.”[11]

The Baltimore Museum of Art owns a number of Mitchell's portraits.[4]

Documentary film on Mitchell's life and work[edit]

Craig Highberger's documentary on Mitchell's life and work, Jack Mitchell: My Life Is Black And White, shows hundreds of Mitchell's photographs and includes interviews with many of his subjects, including Edward Albee, Clive Barnes, Merce Cunningham, Patti LuPone and Ned Rorem.[12][13]

Personal life[edit]

Mitchell credits much of his success as a photographer to his fifty-two-year life and business partnership with Robert Pavlik, who died in 2009:

Bob took care of my books, taxes, the apartment, and wonderful gourmet cooking for us. And, although he avoided the limelight, he masterminded and cooked for cocktail and dinner parties we had for some [prominent people]. Bob worked hard to help me.[14]

After a forty-five-year career in New York City, Mitchell retired to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, still producing black and white exhibition prints[15] from his negative files and working on another book of his fifty-five years of dance photography. He died in New Smyrna Beach, aged 88.[16]



  1. ^ New York: Putnam, 1983 (ISBN 0399508430); London: Chatto & Windus, 1984 (ISBN 0701139315). See Bill Jay, "Jack Mitchell: Photographer of Dance" (PDF), Bill Jay's website; and "Bibliography: John Lennon", AIU: A Yoko Ono website.
  2. ^ New York: Dodd, Mead, 1964.
  3. ^ Cleveland: World Publishing, 1967. With text by Clive Barnes.
  4. ^ New York: Amphoto, 1998. ISBN 0817440259.
  5. ^ For other reviews, see Victoria Donohoe, "It looks like history, but it's art", The Philadelphia Inquirer August 13, 2006 (on Jack Mitchell's website); and Melissa Pracht, "Jack Mitchell: Uberphotographer", The St. Augustine Record October 8, 2004.
  6. ^ Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1993. ISBN 0836245083.


  1. ^ Mary Thomas, "Photographer's images catch the stars" at the Wayback Machine (archived December 12, 2005), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 29, 2005.
  2. ^ "International 'Idols'", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 3, 2005. Retrieved March 10, 2012.[dead link]
  3. ^ John Yau, "Jack Mitchell: An Introduction"; appearing within the web page "Jack Mitchell: Icons & Idols, A Photographer's Chronicle of the Arts, 1960–1995" at the Wayback Machine (archived September 6, 2008), Atlantic Center for the Arts. Retrieved by the Wayback Machine on September 6, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Bill Jay, "Jack Mitchell, photographer of dance" (PDF). Bill Jay's website.
  5. ^ Annette Grant, "He Was a Camera: A Photographer's Farewell", The New York Times, December 17, 1995. Retrieved May 2, 2011.
  6. ^ Jack Mitchell, "A Final Record", The New York Times. December 8, 2005. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
  7. ^ Philip E. Bishop, "A Choreographer's World in Still Life and Reel Time Jack Mitchell", Orlando Sentinel, August 31, 1997. Retrieved February 7, 2013.
  8. ^ "Icons & Idols: A Photographer’s Chronicle of the Arts, 1960–1995", Delaware Art Museum, 2011. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
  9. ^ "Icons & Idols: Jack Mitchell, A Photographer's Chronicle of the Arts, 1960–1995", University of Richmond Museums, 2006. Retrieved March 10, 2012.
  10. ^ "Jack Mitchell: Icons & Idols, A Photographer's Chronicle of the Arts, 1960–1995" at the Wayback Machine (archived September 6, 2008), Atlantic Center for the Arts. Retrieved by the Wayback Machine on September 6, 2008.
  11. ^ "Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art Acquires Collection of Jack Mitchell Vintage Photographs", Smithsonian Institution, August 29, 2008. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
  12. ^ Nathan Southern (Rovi Corporation), "Jack Mitchell: My Life Is Black and White (2006)", The New York Times 2006. Retrieved March 10, 2010.
  13. ^ "Jack Mitchell: My Life is Black and White DVD", Craig B. Highberger's website. 2006. Retrieved March 10, 2012.
  14. ^ Jack Mitchell: My Life is Black and White DVD", Craig B. Highberger's website. 2006. Retrieved March 10, 2012.
  15. ^ "Photographer Jack Mitchell to Speak at New Smyrna Beach Library", Volusia County, Florida, March 1, 2012. Available here within highbeam.com (but behind a paywall).
  16. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/arts/jack-mitchell-photographer-of-the-arts-dies-at-88.html?_r=0

External links[edit]