Ryan McGinley has long been taking pictures of people half lost in a rapture, romping about in caves or entranced under some kind of spell. Either coming down or heading up, his wan and clothing-free subjects appear to drift through their encounters.
That most of McGinley’s subjects are his friends shows how comfortable they are to be portrayed in the nip. These grafitti artists, models, assorted freaks, sex workers and skateboarders are of a generation happy in front of the camera, and McGinley makes them feel as much a part of the art as the rest of the image. He describes his pictures as “evidence of fun”.
His use of dreamy filters and natural light in his photography has helped inspire amateur Instagrammers to get their bits out and have them shot artily. He favours 35mm film and makes his photographs very much in the tradition of the work of Nan Goldin and Larry Clark for gritty reality. The first glimpse of the morning after. The post coital glare. The walk of shame.
By the sea
“When I can find someone androgynous, it’s the best because it’s like a two-in-one package,” says the New Yorker. “That really is interesting to me. I went through a pretty big David Bowie period when I was younger, and that has affected me profoundly in my life and my work.”
Naturally this has made McGinley very much in-demand with brands, having worked for Uniqlo, Marc Jacobs, Levis and MySpace (ask your parents). He also had a photo used as the cover of Sigur Ros’ album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly) in 2008. So it’s very likely you have seen his work subconsciously.
New York’s Museum Of Modern Art has exhibited McGinley, but doesn’t actually own any of his work. It’s snobbery that should have been long obliterated, as 38-year-old McGinley’s youth and willingness to engage with advertising and promotional opportunities seems at odds with a museum that showcases Andy Warhol.
Fairytales of New York
While a student in 2000, McGinley showcased his work in his first exhibition, mailing his catalogue to photographers and magazines he admired. The plan worked, with Index magazine commissioning him to take snaps of cult synthpop singer Momus in Berlin. From there on, McGinley started happening.
“I’m so bad technically,” he admits. “I never trained in photography. I studied graphic design, and I always ask them just to put the camera on automatic. Seriously.”
The youngest of eight, by the age of 25 he’d become the youngest artist to have his work shown at New York’s Whitney Museum Of Art.
His works have appeared in the Guggenheim and exhibited worldwide. McGinley has also dabbled in film, mostly adverts for the likes of Pringle (featuring Tilda Swinton) and Mercedes Benz as well as videos for Sigur Ros. He also followed Morrissey on his 2004 tour, taking shots of his fans and the man himself, captured with flattering filters.
Many of McGinley’s recent projects have involved road trips with his subjects, travelling around the US and unearthing secluded areas, visiting farmlands and deserted spaces in order for inspiration.
But it’s these photos that typify his ability to capture sensuality at its rawest.
Way Far by Ryan McGinley is published by Rizzoli New York
Loaded freelance reporter Ian Wade writes about music and TV for newspapers and websites. He is also a music publicist. Follow him on Twitter at @WadeyWade