Ryan McGinley

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]

Dream Portfolio Task

Choose six individual photographs from different photographers which you like. Choose one out of the six images that means the most to you. 


1) Sally Mann “At Twelve”

“You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine (oh, how you have to cringe and hide!), in order to discern at once, by ineffable signs―the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limbs, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate―the little deadly demon among the wholesome children; she stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power.”

A piece taken from “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov which instantly evokes with closed eyes the infamous images by American photographer Sally Mann in my mind. For me, Mann’s series, “At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women” is particularly Lolita-esque.  In the novel Delores ‘Lolita’ Haze is the tender age of twelve when the narrator Humbert Humbert first encounters her as they embark on a disturbing yet heart-wrenching affair.

Twelve years old is a strange age for girls. Whilst they are still considered children, womanhood is often already upon them, as Humbert recognizes in Lolita. Her developing curves yet still childish slender figure and youthful skin send him into frenzy, which is uncomfortable to read. But I can also understand him. The girls in “At Twelve” I find beautiful, which I feel uncomfortable admitting. Their figures are enviably athletic and slender, their faces youthful and unknowing, “unconscious herself of her fantastic power.” It’s that not knowing of how pretty they are, which is why I read the subjects as looking vulnerable, despite Mann claiming to want to focus on the strength that the girls possess.

For me, the one image I chose by Sally Mann is a clear representation of Lolita. The girl in the image resembles Dominic Swain who played Lolita in the 1997 film by Adrian Lynne, which is maybe why I chose it out of the entire series.  It’s the subject’s gaze and pose, which I find interesting. The girl objectively is obviously just relaxing in a chair assumedly in her family back garden. However, she still looks slightly provocative with her bare limbs and wet hair, just like Lolita lying in her back garden beneath the sprinklers which unawares to her drives Humbert insane with delight. I also love Sally Mann’s style: moody black and white images sometimes with tints of browns and yellows. They’re earthy and striking and are a colour palette I’ve tried to emulate over the summer with my wedding images.

Overall, it’s a strong image, which arouses questions in the viewers mind and exudes a Lolita feel, which I find interesting.

A (5)

2) David Hamilton, “Dreams of a Young Girl III”

The reason I chose this image by British photographer David Hamilton, was because, similarly to Sally Mann’s image, it aroused questions in my mind and a degree of guilt at looking at such undeniably beautiful images of the young and still developing female form. The girls are clearly pubescent in Hamilton’s series, which again evokes ideas of nymphets, Lolita and the beauty of youth which, makes you wonder: should I like these images? The girl’s ages aside, I can’t help but fall in love and browse through Hamilton’s endlessly wistful images. Hamilton focuses on the shape of the female form and innocence I feel, again drawing on that kind of unconsciousness the girls possess, of not recognizing the power of their own beauty. The images possess a kind of hazy dreaminess, which reminds me of the Virgin Suicides also. I can’t pin point exactly why I like this image so much but I do. And so it made my top 6.

Petra Collins "Magnetic Paradise"

3) Petra Collins “Magnetic Paradise”

Petra Collins is a 20-year-old photographer from Toronto. She is the founder of the Ardorous, which in her own words is “a platform for female artists showcasing individual and collaborative projects between a collective of female creative professionals – all full of ardor but each with a unique artistic style and voice.” Her images convey a combination of female sexuality, development, innocence and youth reminiscent to scenes from The Virgin Suicides by Sophia Coppola. There’s a sense of tragedy and desperation also in some of her images, which tell a greater story and introduce us to characters we, well maybe just us girls, could relate to.

However, the image I chose by Petra Collins is somewhat different and jumped out at me despite its simplicity. The landscape colour image is of a female floating in a pool of water. The fact the female is floating conjures ideas of being weightless and free, which you are when you’re young and beautiful. The white water bubbles and beaming sun, which seem to burst from the silhouetted figure appear like sparks or flashes, thus reinforcing excitement and how brilliant it is to be wild and youthful. I also love the soft blues in the image. The image for me feels like it’s taken from a memory of some past summer holiday or some sweet dream. I find it simply entrancing.

Ryan McGinley "Coley Running Rainbow"

4) Ryan McGinley “Coley Running Rainbow”

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.

Upon viewing McGinley’s impossibly exciting images of adventure and youth I can’t help but relate it to “On The Road”. Both the novel and recent Hollywood film embody a charismatic perspective of being forever young, wild and free: invincible of pain or the downsides of drugs or time, which for me is evident also in McGinley’s images. I have since longed to travel across some exotic landscape with my friends and document our goings on since discovering McGinley’s work. This is why I chose one of McGinley’s as one of my top 6 images of all time. They make me wonder how the photographer has created such colour palettes and found such electrifying characters. I want to emulate him in style and photograph similar subjects.

It was difficult, but I decided on a landscape image of a nude male running through a field toward the camera, which is taken, I assume, from the back of a moving vehicle. The vehicle frames the image with a black border making it appear filmic, as if it were a screenshot taken from, “On The Road”. For me this one image encapsulates what McGinley’s images are all about: freedom, excitement and youth.  The colours are vibrant as is the subject’s expression. His managed to capture a fleeting moment of spontaneity, which I’m simply in awe of. Top notch!

5) Larry Clarke “Tulsa”

5) Larry Clarke “Tulsa”

Delving into my fascination with brooding topics such as crime and addiction, the hard-hitting images from “Tulsa” by American photographer, filmmaker and producer Larry Clark, which shocked the world over, simply had to be apart of my top 6 images. The series combines graphic depictions of sex, drug abuse and violence amongst the youth of Oklahoma during the swinging sixties and early seventies. The black and white images are just that, black and white. They’re harrowing and haunting and touch upon topics, which still interest and horrify people today. The collection documents the artist, and his friends’ amphetamine use. Through the photographs, Clark captures the highs and lows of drug abuse. So undeniably raw, “Tulsa” is a true document of youth culture and drug abuse, which still alive universally even today.

The single image I chose is a portrait picture of a man with a cigarette lying down with a baby unsupported lying on his stomach. If taken out of context the image would seemingly depict everyday life, a father and a baby. However, as we know the series acts as a portrait of Clarke’s friends and their addictions, the images arouses fear and sadness. Is the baby’s needs being met here? Does he know the baby is there? I’m sure the image was shown in a previous lecture and that there’s an image, which follows this one and the man and baby, are smiling, thus putting the audience at ease. Nonetheless, it’s the image I chose which is most haunting for me. It makes me think of the baby in novel and film. “Trainspotting” which dies as an outcome of neglect from his heroin addicted mother. Images like this are hard-hitting, raw and poignant, something I would love to be able to access and document.

Nan Goldin "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency"

6) Nan Goldin “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency”

Over the last thirty years, Nan Goldin has achieved international fame as a photographer by creating alluring images of outsiders, similarly to Diane Arbus and Robert Frank. However, the striking difference is that Goldin’s outsiders are none other then her friends, family and acquaintances, the inhabitants of a bohemian wild lifestyle. Her images are that of tenderness combined with brutal honesty making for a beautiful yet raw collection of images, “I want to show exactly what my world looks like, without glamorization, without glorification. This is not a bleak world but one in which there is an awareness of pain, a quality of introspection”

‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ of which my chosen image derives from, is a visual diary chronicling the struggle for intimacy and understanding between friends, family and lovers. Nan Goldin’s photographs show truth, a candid document of her life and personal odyssey. As well as this, Goldin unconsciously captures a universal understanding of the differences between men and women, and an element of humanity that longs for companionship. It also reflects the highs and lows of living life in the fast lane. Drugs, sex, relationships and love are all the rage but also have us witness the death of many of the main characters in her life.

Obsessed and delighted to focus on the “highs” in Goldin’s work I chose a single colour image of a female straddling her lover as they share a passionate kiss. It’s not the typical romantic, “Breakfast in Tiffany’s” type kiss. The image evokes passion, heat and spontaneity. It’s as if the women has pounced upon her lover in the midst of ecstasy and excitement, unable to hold back, as we see the pair embrace utterly lost in their own world. There’s something very primal and human about the image, which I feel is reinforced by its vivid colour and use of flash. I love images that capture moments and this image does just that.

Which photograph by another photographer has meant the most to you?

For me Ryan McGinley’s image has the most profound effect and triggers the most in me. It inspires me to go on adventures with my friends and document wild goings on just as McGinley did. It evokes feelings of excitement and thrill, of youth and beauty. I adore the use of colour, which is something I rarely shoot in. I want to know how he created such electrifying images and how he managed to meet such enthusiastic and wild characters. Its reminiscence to the scenes and eccentrics to one of my favourite novels, “On The Road” is exciting. It makes me realise the power of story telling through images and how one can make connections to other things. This single photograph represents the lighter things I like in photographs: spontaneity, the wild ones and freedom. This image reflects McGinley’s journeys in a single and electric moment. I have always adored McGinley’s images of him and his friends and am things I want to try and emulate.

What photograph of your own are you most proud of?


Influenced by Sally Mann, I edited this photo to emulate her style: black and white, sombre with an earthy tone, quite the opposite to the subject matter, a couple on their wedding day. Lovers are often lost in their own bubble on their wedding day. This couple were particularly in awe of one another which evokes to memory the words from the novel “Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction” by Luke Davies, “We’d found the secret glue that held all things together. In a perfect place, where the noise did not intrude, our world was so very complete”. And I feel I captured that feeling in this image. I love people who have the ability to capture fleeting moments and I think this image was one of those times. Their expression, excitement and perhaps fear on the biggest day of their life is what I think of, which is what I like and am proud of: the moment and expression I captured.


I’m also proud of the image above, for similar reasons to the first photo. Only of course the subject and situation are entirely different. It’s an image taken on 35mm black and white film of my ex-boyfriend after sex taken over two years ago.  For me it rolls into one, different elements of each image taken from my top six. I want to return to photographing people in this way throughout this module.

Where do you draw inspiration from and what do you fear most?

I often draw inspiration from films, stories, characters and moments in real life. I like to draw upon things I see in films in particular. Such as I love the dream-like quality of The Virgin Suicides and the beautiful tragedy of Lolita. However, I am yet to incorporate such qualities and subject matter in my own image making.  And so I draw most of my inspiration from documenting, real life and children. When it comes to my wedding work, I act as the secondary photographer, allowing me to step back and capture people unaware, lost in whatever moment: a giggle, a kiss, a conversation and so on. This inspires me. Capturing things unravelling before me and simply documenting it. I’d like to bring this inspiration to other matter to such as documenting my friends and boyfriend in more intimate or wild scenarios. However, it might be difficult to catch them unaware!

What I fear most, is creating images that don’t really evoke anything in the viewer. I want to create things that are worthwhile to not only me but to others too.

Project 4, documenting my life

Personal Relationships © Sophie Moet

During my first year at university I found documenting my personal life most enjoyable and is something I hope to continue. Having been introduced to the raw and honest images of photographers Nan Goldin, Elinor Carucci, Ryan McGinley and Ross Rawlings, I was instantly infatuated with the idea of turning the camera onto my own life and relationships. Therefore, throughout the second year I hope to document my experiences, including the everyday and relationships. Above is a mood board for inspiration.