Studio Portraits

Ryan McGinley

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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.

References:

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]