251MC Picbod

Ryan McGinley


Ryan McGinley Photography

Ryan McGinley is an American photographer living in New York City who began making photographs in 1998 of his friends and there goings on.  In 2003, when he was 24 years old, McGinley became the youngest person to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has been prolifically busy ever since, leading major fashion campaigns, having back to back exhibitions and having a star studded friend list, McGinley is one of the most exciting photographers turned out in modern times.

I first witnessed McGinley’s images in an issue of Love Magazine in 2007. I came to learn that every summer since 2005, he and his models or ‘bohemian spirits’ he likes to call them, take road trips across America whereby McGinley documents them and their journeys such as jumping off cliffs or skidding down dunes. Free spirit, wild, youth, fresh, truth and fearlessness, are all elements that exude from McGinley’s images and makes a refreshing change from images of youth, which reflect more serious or negative themes. McGinley’s images are exciting, colourful and dreamy. I’m envious of the sights and activities he and his friends have lived. This fun, fucked-up, youthful aesthetic originated from McGinley’s first series titled, ‘The Kids Are Alright’ (1998-2003).  He took images of them naked, running through fields, dancing amidst fireworks, swimming, smoking, laughing, hung over, stoned…all aspects of his life, the people around him and youth. Below are the images from the series:

Every summer since 2005, New-York based photographer Ryan McGinley, has been documenting him and his friends, who he renamed as his, ‘bohemian spirits’ as they embark on road trips across America. The words taken from the endlessly exhilarating novel “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, which is also based on Kerouac’s travels across America with his friends, instantly spring to mind: “They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars”. The people that ‘burn, burn, burn’ are for me the ones captured in McGinley’s portfolio and reflect what Kerouac describes precisely.

But it’s one of McGinley’s later series which has been utterly inspiring to me as of late. The series entitled “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” (above)and boy does the title speak volumes to me. My reading is that of dead end yet unique individuals with nothing to do, all wanting to break free and live real lives. They all know this is “nowhere” muted and bleak. But these are electrifying characters with genuine optimism that one day they’ll get out.

The series is entirely different to any other series produced by McGinley. McGinley has shifted his focus away from constructing a youthful sublime within the boundless American landscape and has concentrated instead on creating imagery within the confines of his New York studio. The result is a surprisingly restrained, open-ended study of black and white portraiture. Here we see McGinley not as a chronicler of youthful adventure, but as an engine for an almost scientific cataloguing of the human species. No colour, no landscape, just people. McGinley commented on his process for the series in an interview for Russh magazine:

“Black-and-whites REALLY are about the person. It’s really about looking into someone’s soul and trying to get something out of them, to get, like, a true emotion – everything is taking place in their face and the gesture of their body. “So many photographers that I admire have shot black-and-white studio portraits – Peter Hujar, Helmet Newton, Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe. For me, it was about contributing to the history of people who have done that.” When I ask which artists’ work he admires, he describes the art that hangs on his living room wall: “I trade with my friends, that’s how I get my art collection. I have a pretty good collection – Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Jack Pierson, David Armstrong, Rita Ackermann, Dash Snow, Robert Mapplethorpe and Spike Jonze.”

The subjects appear to be amidst various emotional outbreaks: laughing, jumping and screaming; in the middle of “nowhere”. The figures are suspended in an eternal artifice, a strategic nowhere, so that our attention rests solely on the sitters’ state of mind. It’s enticing and relentless, a concept I want to emulate. For my final images I will be and have been creating straight forward studio portraits devoid of any sense of space or location, forcing the viewers to focus solely on the individual being captured, similarly to the portraits in “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”.

I also like the way in which McGinley exhibited his works which has inspired me on how I will display my own works. I will print my images A3 sized and frame them in thin black frames similarly to McGinley. I want my portraits to appear simple, borderline mundane as the subjects and the topic I’m depicting is complex and unique enough. It will also reinforce the idea that the individuals being portrayed should be seen and accepted as normal not “taboo”. I’m putting them inside the box, showcasing them on a wall as if they were portraits of any other person.

Ryan McGinley is hugely talented and continues to inspire me and has influenced many decisions I’ve made through my creative processes of my final project.


New York Times (20 November 2013) Ryan McGinley, the Pied Piper of the Downtown Art World [online] available from<http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/21/fashion/Ryan-McGinleys-Apprentices-cool-kids-in-the-downtown-art-scene.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1393959792-AMEhb/3kFg5cDu8eRT58VQ>

Team Gallery (n.d) Everybody Knows This is Nowhere [online] available from< http://teamgal.com/exhibitions/171> [4 March 2014]

Russh Magazine (n.d) Ryan McGinley [online] available from<http://www.russhmagazine.com/arts-music/artists/ryan-mcginley/> [4 March 2014]

Exhibition and Physical Artefact

Today, I went to Fargo, where our 2013 Picbod exhibition will be held, to start on my physical artefact. I wanted to create a collage of all the images of myself and various tribes, both past and present. With a large collage, I felt the use of colour schemes would create points of interest within the piece rather then creating a space where the audience would have to view the images individually. As the images are some what generic, after all their only documents of various nights out with friends, strangers and ex-lovers, I wanted the collage to be seen as one image.  Therefore, viewing them individually was something I wanted instantly eliminated and wanted to form one installation, which I feel I could emphasize and pull off quite well with a collage.

My initial plan was to stick the images directly onto the wall of the exhibition space, using images of previous sequences of the collage as a template to follow.  I used double sided tape and began creating a part of my collage. However, due to the paper being so thin, it began to curl at the edges. Ideally I wanted the images to appear flat, and this added texture, which made the images extremely difficult to view whilst also disturbing the style of what a collage, should be (images overlapping, random and flat!) Therefore, I decided to buy some large sheets of card, two A1 pieces, which I would then use as a base for my collage. This would also allow me to complete it at home ready for the morning, rather then struggle in the space and time allowed at Fargo.

At home, I began my collage. I taped the two pieces of thick white card together and placed my images onto it, to form a sequence, focusing on similar colour schemes that arise from the collection. To draw the viewers’ eye towards the collage more, I placed images with warm tones such as red, pink and orange, in the centre of the collage. I placed cooler toned images, such as the disposables, which exude a blue tint, around the edges, sweeping the point of focus diagonally across the piece.  I then lined the collage with dark images to create somewhat of a frame. At a distance the eye just focuses on the separate colours within the piece but my audience will also be able to view the piece very closely. This allows them to inspect certain images that draw them in to discover what is really going on and draw conclusions of the overall image.

Laying Out Collage

Laying Out Collage

Laying Out Collage

Laying Out Collage

In terms of reflecting this idea of ‘tribe’ in my collage I created a circular timescale, starting from the bottom left and working round.  It starts with images of me and my ex boyfriend, then leads onto images of strangers, some of which have become friends, to images of friends. Throughout the collage there are images of me, showing a variety of emotions, as do the re-occurring subjects in the piece. The use of self-portraits I feel link all the characters together quite effectively. As mentioned in a previous post the common cycle of nights out are feel sad, get drunk, feel happy, feel sad again which was something I also wanted to reflect in my collage through including images of different tones and emotions. Drunkenness, boredom, happiness and sadness circulate around the collage again emphasizing this circular motion of a timescale and different tribes.











Viewing the piece as one image is very effective and creates a blur of all the tribes I’ve been a part of. The struggle between recognising those who are strangers with those who are friends was intentional as the once strangers have since become friends, forming a new tribe. The images which show varying emotions within tribe and myself also reflects the journey I’ve been on and feelings we all share. As this is a personal piece, I feel including images of myself being sick or crying could be relatable to other people, as we’ve all been there at some point.  My physical artefact differs slightly in terms of narrative. In the physical artefact I’ve mixed images from different nights out and time periods, not massively but still. In the physical artefact, being a collage I wanted to create groups of colour as opposed to a strict timescale. However, when making my digital artefact mixing all the images didn’t work for me. Nonetheless, both portray my ‘tribe’ but it made me realise how digital and physical artefacts need to be rendered and altered to make them work.

Overall, I feel having created a collage for my physical artefact has worked really well. As the images are very small upon close inspection, I will also include 6×4 prints of selected images in the collage and others that do not appear. I will group these images together using clips that I will attach to string, or I will put them in envelopes and attach the envelopes to the wall. This will allow the audience to see higher quality versions of the images within the piece whilst also creating an element of interaction between the viewer and my piece. They can physically handle the images and flick through them as they wish, which I think is always a positive when viewing an exhibition.

Soundtrack Choices for Slideshow

For my slideshow I want to create a feeling of turbulence, setting different tones through the use of music, switching between solemn and playful, bringing emphasise to my images. I have decided to use tracks from two favourite movie soundtracks of mine, ‘Thirteen’ and ‘Tarnation’ as well as some tracks I initially heard from teen dramas on T.V. I feel that because these soundtracks were created to move alongside moving and still images, are the reasons as to why the tensions within the tracks work so well and are so emotive. I feel these moving and varied tracks will be really effective in emphasizing my images whilst setting different atmospheres for my viewers, forming a narrative for them to follow.

Initial Music Choices

Initial Music Choices

I have made a few changes to my final music choices through trying various sequences with different tracks whilst asking others for their opinions. Initially I was going to use a heavy metal track (‘Hit Me’ by Mark Mothersbaugh) with the images of Kev, and me, as this was the sort of music that engulfed our social and personal environment. For me it also reinforced/suggested to the viewers certain unsteadiness and rockiness within the relationship. However, upon reflection I felt it was too obvious of a song choice and others agreed that it was too abrupt and slightly cliché. Therefore, I decided to use a calm song, juxtaposing with the images slightly and setting a more solemn tone as we witness a breakdown of a relationship (‘Laser Beam’ by Low).

In relation to the images of strangers and friends I wanted an upbeat song to show a more playful side of my nights out. I also wanted to reflect a social awakening of myself and friends as the majority of us are free and single. This would contrast with the first sequence and start to form a narrative for the viewer and show the change in tribes. Again I played around with various songs including ‘Imperial Teen’ by Ivanka and ‘Clinic’ by Equaliser.

However, I thought when these songs were played along those of images from my strangers’ task and nights out since then with that particular tribe (Joel etc) didn’t work as well. In those sets of images we witness Andy and Emmaline fall out, tiredness and boredom.  Therefore, I opted for a song that carries more of a range, moments of calm and up beats. I chose, ‘Reptile’ by Lisa Germano. In this set, this was my second meeting with my stranger and I also took images of other strangers. It was the unfamiliar. The lyrics in, ‘Reptile’ reflects such feelings whilst also suggesting other emotions, which are evident in the images:

Down on the corner
So unfamiliar
And making me wonder

All of the robots
Around it are dying
Craving emotions
And constantly fighting

The sun came out
And it didn’t go away
No, it didn’t
It didn’t go away

I still wanted to create a more light hearted, youthful sequence to create waves of emotions within the piece as a whole. There go, with the disposable images of nights out with my friends I wanted a really up beat almost dance floor type song. The fact the images all possess that sickly bright falsh, blue tinge aesthetic having a beat the images could flash along with seemed like an effective idea. So far it has worked. I chose, ‘On Dancefloors’ by Metronomy.

Overall, the sequencing of my slideshow is chronological. The images and their varying tones are very up and down which I feel I have reinforced well with my music choices. Below are the final three tracks to my slideshow.

Friends and Strangers

Iain and Bridie are good friends who I go out with quite regularly, especially Iain. I’m always guaranteed to have a relaxed yet never boring night out with this artsy duo so always have a small compulsion to bring a camera on a night out with them anyway! On this occasion I used a Nikon D700 and focused on Bridie and Iain, with a few of me included. Some we appear a little dejected with life as we sit at our usual dark table sipping on our drinks or our eyes appearing dazed or playing with phones, uninterested. This particular night was extremely spur of the moment and we were all quite tired. Nevertheless, we made the most of it and had a quiet one. I also took images of people in my environment. Some of the strangers reacted to the camera or even asked to have their picture taken whilst in others I took more of a documentary approach and shot images without the strangers’ awareness. But overall I like the combination of both.

In this set of images a mixture of slight boredom (sitting drinking in Quidds Inn) and playfulness (the images of the man stripping off and singing to me). I’d like to mention that I know the man who took off his top and sang the lyrics of Whitney Houston to me. I know him for reasons which I really shouldn’t blog about, but it’s just as playful and weird, just dropping that in there. From this set of images I reminisced about Peter Dench, who manages to capture British culture and his series DrinkUK. The strangers in this set are extremely drunk. Note the lady in the bathroom, the guy stripping (obviously) and the two boys smoking and hugging. This is real life. We always encounter these sorts of people on a night out either happily or annoyingly. Either way I feel these images really add something to the project. As a result all the images of strangers as a group could represent a tribe. This will run nicely when creating a slideshow.

Joel and Others

Above are a few more photos from my second meeting with Joel, my victim/participant for my strangers task and empowered portrait task. Originally I uploaded images of Joel only for the strangers task but for my final piece in Picbod I want to include images of everyone I meet on a night out. And so the gallery above features images of his friends, as well as one or two my friends, a few strangers and some familiar faces. As a result, as mentioned before, the theme or idea behind my final piece are all the ‘tribes’ I encounter in my social life including friends, strangers and even strangers who become friends, such as Joel.

We all met up again. I’d differentiate between who are mine and who are Joel’s friends but collectively we now consider all of us as ‘our’ friends. As an outcome, these photographs, in a way, suggest a shift in my relationships: strangers becoming friends, as well as the struggles which have already arisen with a few. You may notice that the whole tone of these images are utterly different compared to the images above. This was our third meeting and despite being in the same bar, altered emotions and a solemn atmosphere infused.

Andy and Emmaline, who appear loved up in the first set, who also met each other the same night I met Joel, their dynamic and body language are in striking contrast in comparison to the images of them laughing and cosying up. The pair were having an argument and reached the conclusion of, ‘this isn’t working’. I documented parts of this discussion individually and together, or rather not together. The night was interesting to document. Josh and I were bored beyond relief: Joel was the joking peace-maker whilst Gary, Andy and Emmaline were turbulent, one minute playful, the next serious amidst a disagreement. Overall I just documented the night unfolding around me.

However, on a more artistic note, when I visited the unisex toilets, I found the room really striking: the walls are lined with long thin mirrors encompassing the room horizontally. I instantly thought of Nan Goldin and the multiple images of her friends and herself looking in mirrors. Therefore, I quickly grabbed Joel and took some portraits of him and he in turn took some of myself. I thought that placing an image of the long fish tank next to one of the images taken in the toilet would look interesting in terms of presenting these images, but it would be on a purely aesthetic level.

It was this set of images that got me thinking about documenting different emotions of people on a night out but upon reflection I feel I don’t have enough images to form a strong narrative. And so these images will represent the different scope of emotions within this tribe and the striking contrast between the second night out and this one.

I also took some photographs after the night out at Emmaline’s humble abode. I have also taken other images if myself and some others but am yet to decide whether to include them in my physical and digital artefact. Although, images taken at my friends houses, in particular bedrooms, could reinforce the level of intimacy and friendship I have with those I consider my ‘tribe’.

Peter Dench and Night Life

DrinkUk by Peter Dench

DrinkUk by Peter Dench

Continuing my focus on images and photographers that document party goers, life, youth and their environments I went onto find British photographer Peter Dench. Dench focuses on British culture, which is exaggerated through garish colours and unusual perspectives. The bright colours and somewhat exaggerated scenarios make the imagery very entertaining yet quite sickening. It’s like Dench is making fun of British culture but at the same time showing how us British live and what we value. I love how his photographs make a laugh at us whilst showing the truth about national characteristics. His garish subject matters such as binge drinking and teenage love are ones I found particularly enjoyable and felt linked with some of the themes that have sprang from my own images. I looked at DrinkUk which shows us Brits in all our drunken grandeur!

What I like about Dench’s images is that they appear to be taken using direct flash, which puts us, as the viewer, into a perspective as if were the casual attenders to the events, documenting what’s happening. It’s a photographic feature that I think puts the subject matter into context very effectively but draws the viewer instantly into the seriousness of the matter, on a non-serious level. Because everyone knows (at least I think) that compact cameras with flashes emit this kind of flash result, this is only how I feel everyone can relate to this kind of culture. Taking this into consideration, on my nights out I have been using compact cameras to document my tribe and the evenings events. I wanted to emulate that direct flash, blue tint effect in my images which can be seen in Dench’s images and some of Nan Goldin’s work.

In terms of my Picbod project I have been documenting me and my friends on nights out and our environments. The images produced so far have created a strong sense of ‘tribe’. Whilst I liked the idea of moving past the night out and following my friends home, the nights out themselves reflect this idea of ‘tribe’ and my social setting more effectively. Me and my friends usually socialise in bars and drink, documenting the after math if one of them pulls…well I feel it wouldn’t reflect my friends and self as effectively. I want the main focus of my images to be about our social lives and drinking. Drinking too much and meeting new people is the norm and a more then regular occurrence between me and my friends in my life right now. This got me thinking about the people I used to socialise with.

As a result, I want to include images of the tribes I used to be apart of, such as nights out with my ex boyfriend or when I frequented metal bars in Birmingham quite frequently. From here I want to bring to visual terms the journey ever since: meeting people, strangers, strangers becoming a part of my tribe (Joel from my strangers task is now more of a tribe member) and current tribes I am a part of. I have documented nights out relentlessly using both compact and digital cameras as of late. However, I prefer the overall look of images taken on compact cameras. Their imperfect, over exposed and gritty. These attributes I want to reinforce throughout my whole project and will take into consideration in terms of the Picbod exhibition.

Ballad Slideshow

In this slideshow, The Tiger Lillies perform a live 42 minute soundtrack for ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’, one continuous piece of music that evolves and underscores the beauty, pain, joy, tragedy and sorrow of relationships and the startling images by Nan Goldin. However, whilst watching this 40 minute video of Goldin’t images I found myself getting bored. Yes the music and images are riveting, but this edit exudes monotony. The images appear on the screen for far too long and the music is at points highly depressing and numbing. I’m not entirely sure if this video is an actual edit by Nan Goldin. After researching into Goldin’s for ever changing slideshows of the ‘Ballad’ many reviewers say that the images from the series only appear for a few seconds at a time. This seems far more appropriate. Baring in mind this distinctive  quality of Goldin’s slideshows I found some videos, recorded by the viewers of a few of her slideshows.

These videos are clearly different to the first video and I much prefer them. I have a lot of images so having them appear for short periods of time like in Goldin’s slideshows will be most effective. As well as the images the soundtrack played alongside them is of utmost importance in setting the tone for the viewer. The soundtrack is programmed and created by Goldin and is very much considered. I want to find music that is quite atmospheric. The soundtrack to movie, ‘Tarnation’ and ‘Thirteen’ hold tracks that are emotional, serious, fun and rocky and I plan to use some for my slideshow.