Ryan McGinley is one of those photographers who conquer, that makes people fall in love.
Born in 1977, he began taking photographs in 1998: his passion began when he was still a student, in fact, some of his classmates continued to collaborate with him also as subjects; among these we find Dan Colen and Dash Snow, for which the artist in an interview claimed to have matured “a real obsession”. Among his muses, we also find Petra Collins.
After graduating from Parsons Design School, at the age of 25 he held a solo show at the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art with his work “The Kids Were All Right”, which gathered the photographs taken from his friends in New York. The images represent authentically what is inherent in abandonment, sex, use of drugs and parties. In the same year McGinley was nominated Photographer of the Year by American Photo Magazine and in 2007 he received the Young Photographer Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography.
The photographs of the first period of the artist can be seen in the homonymous volume “The Kids Were All Right”, a collection of 1600 shots made between 1998 and 2003. The title recalls the song of The Who “The kids are alright”, taken from the legendary album “My Generation”.
His subjects are young and adolescent who transmit a great sense of freedom from the “wild” attitude, given by the recurring element of the nude, enhanced thanks to the use of a Yashica T4s and a film Leica R8s. McGinley’s work is cinematic and has been influenced by Terrence Malick’s film, Days of Heaven and has rewritten the imagery of advertising campaigns for brands such as Levi’s and Wrangler; he is also the author of the iconic cover of the album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust by Sigur Rós. The artist’s favorite themes are hedonism and liberation, the life that is celebrated in its intensity, where even the scenes of sex and drugs are immortalized without censorship and prejudice and describe a youth in an underground environment without rules.
What McGinley does is much more: in the wake of photographers like Larry Clark, Nan Goldin and Wolfgang Tillmans, he makes his diary a generational document of great sociological value, made up of sexual freedom, excesses and subcultures. In 2004 his photographic approach changed, failing to talk about the tranche de vie carried on by artists like Nan Goldin and Wolfgang Tillmans: why wait for that moment to happen when it can be reproduced? And that’s how he decides not to document more men and women in spaces and real situations, also working on set. As he himself declared:
“I got to the point where I could not wait for the images to happen anymore, I was wasting time and so I started taking pictures, it’s between creation and success, there’s that thin line”.
And this is how every summer is found to spend entire days with his models to recreate the shots with the light and the location imagined; the result is the exuberant imagery that describes a youth made of naked, ethereal, perfect bodies, free from all worries, if not that of not losing even an instant of life. This view contrasts with what could be a less idealized look like that of Nan Goldin, which highlighted the consequences of the life of excesses of his friends and the emotional scars that follow.
Moonmilk project is a poetic journey that celebrates the most intimate and wild relationship between man and nature, where subjects blend with the natural element giving life to a sort of prehistoric scenario, made of caves and places mysteriously fascinating. In the book Way Far by Rizzoli the most recent works are collected, with incredible atmospheres that seem to be part of a dream.
Also by Rizzoli are the books Whistle for the wind and the recent Mirror Mirror. The first is a real monograph on the artist who tells the entire career of McGinley, with the contribution of three extraordinary figures: Chris Kraus, novelist and critic; John Kelsey, writer, artist and activist; and Gus Van Sant, the author’s filmmaker. Each of them participates in the creative process, offering in-depth and unique perspectives on the work and on the importance of McGinley for visual culture.
Mirror Mirror is his recent project: following the instructions were given to them by the artist, a group of individuals explores their image. And that is how he wanted to challenge his creative habits, asking more than a hundred friends to do nude self-portraits, using mirrors and other props. You can see the contents of the book in the video below.