The Life of Tyrone Tyson
Although Tyrone Tyson Brown-Osborne started teaching at City and County in the fall of 2018, many students already know and love him. Not only is Tyrone a familiar face around C&C, but also a recognizable face in the world of advertising and modeling. He is an adroit photographer and a poetic speaker.
Tyrone is a strong, steady person, but his childhood was the opposite. He moved around all over New York and went to Catholic school. One of the most difficult parts of his life was his family.
Tyrone said, “I have two younger brothers and three sisters. I’m the oldest. I don’t think it is a question of whether I liked it. It is just how it turned out. I did not feel responsibility for them since I was so much older than all my siblings,” said Tyrone. He added, “I moved out when I was fifteen.”
Tyrone went on to explain, “I was living on my own but I remember feeding and bathing the second oldest boy, Robert. He’s an actor on TV now, some crime show. My other siblings are Gemayel, Nia, Felicity, and Akilah. I am still in touch with them since they live in the city.”
The other part of Tyrone’s life, which is not widely known, is how he discovered his love for photography. From the beginning he knew he wanted to be a storyteller. At first he thought about becoming a writer since he was reading many James Baldwin books, but soon discovered that profession was not for him.
Tyrone explained, “The state of being a writer is often the state of being alone. And I do not want to be stuck in my head. I don’t want to be alone because a lot of my childhood was sad. My mother’s family was very dysfunctional and somewhat violent, and I felt I needed to connect to people,” said Tyrone.
Although it took Tyrone time to realize that photography was his passion, he got to explore the world of arts in many other forms by modeling and acting. He had many opportunities and took them proudly.
“I worked in advertising and there was this guy Andrew Dosunmu. At the time, he was a fashion stylist and I was living in the East Village back in the 90s. I was selling fine art books on St. Marks, really expensive books. I would see him and he would come around to see the books. He came one afternoon and said, ‘There is this thing I want you to do for me.’ He put me in his work as if I was his muse.”
Tyrone explained, “I worked with him as a model for editorials, music videos, and advertisements. I did runways for shows [in NYC] and in Paris. I was in the first Kenneth Cole ad. I worked with Woolfgang Joop, DKNY, John Bartlett, blah, blah, blah. I was in music videos with the Fugees, Fatboy Slim, Maxwell, Angie Stone, etc. I even have a small part in the film Twelve Monkeys. There were multiple copies of a Coors ad where my face is featured in the film.”
After three years of being in front of the camera, Tyrone decided to move behind the lens. “I decided to buy a Nikon Super 8 camera because really I wanted to make short films. But processing Super 8 is very expensive. After I bought it, I wanted to get a 35 millimeter camera so I purchased a Pentax ME Super,” said Tyrone.
Tyrone continued, “Here’s the thing. I am working with all these fantastic people and I am selling fine art books. In Andrew’s editorials he’s telling stories with images, basically directing the photographers. He created visual images for historical black narratives. I was his main guy. Within that creative space I started shooting, and I basically photographed my friends and people I knew. I started at ICP in 1996 when I was 25. I worked as a teaching assistant so I could learn all the technical stuff I didn’t understand about lighting, printing, photo editing.”
Tyrone soon fell in love with being behind the camera and realized photography could be his career.
Tyrone said, “People know me by sight since my face was in so many magazines. Everyone knows me and I am creating a portfolio. So I go back to all those people I modeled for and started shooting. I photographed for Trace Magazine, which is no longer around, Essence, The Village Voice, The Fader, etc. And now I am doing exactly everything I saw other people do. I walked through that door and now I am telling stories. I photographed and/or worked with artists like Kanye West, John Legend, Common, Jill Scott. I shot fashion stories and travel stories. I even did some writing.”Soon after, Tyrone decided it was time for a change in his life. “I stopped all of that when I decided I wanted to become a father. I wanted to provide a bit more stability. As an artist you can starve on your own, but I could not expect my kid to starve with me. My daughter is 12 now. Her name is Paloma. She goes between me and her mother since we’re separated.”
Because Tyrone decided to settle down, he sought out a more stable work environment. “I ran into a friend who was working for Dream Yard, an arts organization that puts teaching artists into schools. This was in 2003. I ran into him and he asked if I would be interested teaching photography at the school he taught at.
“So over the last 15 years I’ve been working as a teaching artist with various organizations. Miriam, who is a friend of mine, and who works at Art Start is a friend of Nathalie [Joseph, Director of Auxillary Programs] here. Miriam really liked my work with the students and said she wanted to hook me up. She called Nathalie while I was teaching a class and Nathalie called later that evening and asked if I would be interested in coming over for an interview.
“It was a great interview with Michele [Bloom, Director of the Middle and Upper School]. It was fortuitous. Michele raised the idea of teaching the photography class here which was kind of like a dream job because I am trying to build a program so when I am gone it can still evolve. I want to leave something behind.”
Tyrone will certainly have a legacy. He is an influential and well-loved teacher whose vision will continue to have an impact on his students throughout their lives.