Jack Mitchell's Ailey Collection

Photographer Jack Mitchell's Ailey Collection

Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture

The highly anticipated Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on September 24, 2016; thirteen years after Congress and President George W. Bush authorized its construction. The five-acre location sits on the National Mall - at its inauguration, President Obama declared the museum “a monument, no less than the others on this Mall, to the deep and abiding love for this country, and the ideals upon which it is founded.” It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. In its first three months, more than 600,000 people had already visited, and since its opening the museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts

The museum has taken possession of photographer Jack Mitchell’s Ailey Collection, spanning the over thirty-year collaboration between Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Jack Mitchell, starting with Alvin Ailey during the early years of the Company and continuing under the leadership of Judith Jamison. The Collection includes over 10,000 black and white negatives, 600 contact sheets, 1,300 color slides and transparencies, and 350 black and white prints.

Born in 1925, Jack Mitchell earned his living from photography since age fifteen. He moved from Florida to New York City in 1950, and at the suggestion of modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn, he concentrated on photographing dance and dancers. Continuing success in that field became the portal to his work with major creative and performing artists of all disciplines.

Mitchell photographed most of the world's leading dance companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, Boston Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet. His photographs have appeared in a variety of books and publications including The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Dance Magazine, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, Newsweek, Time, Life, Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, and virtually every domestic and international publication featuring photographs of arts personalities. 

In 1993, a book of his photography of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was published. At the time, Dance Magazine Editor-in-Chief Richard Philp stated, “This exciting volume traces Ailey’s remarkable achievement over three decades through Mitchell’s lens. In dance, no other collaboration exists like it, no series of photographs that traces a company’s progression through the decades or explores the work of a single choreographer over such a sustained, fertile period of popular and artistic achievement.”

Mitchell died in 2013 at age 88. Visit his website for more information about his iconic body of work, www.jackmitchell.com

Featured Press Coverage

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National Museum Of African American History & Culture - Alvin Ailey Photography Collection Is Now Available To The Public

On World AIDS Day and the 30th anniversary of Alvin Ailey’s death (Dec. 1), the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is making available the collection of more than 10,000 photographs chronicling the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 1961 to 1994. The Jack Mitchell Photography of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Collection includes 8,288 black-and- white negatives, 2,106 color slides and transparencies, and 339 black-and-white prints depicting private photo sessions, repertory by Alvin Ailey and a wide range of choreographers and iconic solo performers.