Sunday, November 15, 2009

The art of Ryan McGinley

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I was assigned to do a "test article" for Status magazine in Manila. They asked me to write, in 250 words, about photographer Ryan McGinley's new book Moonmilk. So, true to form, I read everything I could find about him.

I became so immersed in his previous work — both commercial and purely artistic — that I wasn't anymore thinking about the article, much less figuring out how I could fit my excitement within the word limit.

Here is one of McGinley's spreads for Missoni's Fall 2009 ad campaign. The action shots not only give justice to the terrific pieces and the styling but place them in the context of carefree youth for which McGinley is known for.

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At 24, he was already exhibiting at the Whitney Museum of American Art and was named Photographer of the Year by American Photo Magazine. The book of photos on show was The Kids are Alright.

You can see from this picture that his portrayal of youth is fresh and free of irony.

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His aesthetic is as much about movement as the expression of free spirit.

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His vision may be idealist (the life that many youths want to lead or how they want to see themselves), but it is vivid, unhampered, and endearingly vulnerable.

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This shot of men running naked was used as an album cover.

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Yes, there is the absence of pain, or the denial of it, but McGinley's images preserve the precious, fleeting moments that stay in our memories.

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The tender naivete exemplified by these ads shot by McGinley for Levi's.

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Youth is sink-and-swim.

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For McGinley, the days are neither muddled nor traumatic.

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They just pass.

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And come again.

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Kids rise and walk on clouds.

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Skid on waves.

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Dive but don't sink.

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His starry-eyed images have also been appropriated for ads for Balenciaga.

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Starry-eyed and smoky.

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Except for the clothes and the models, ad pictures look no different from his regular fare.

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Ryan mostly takes images of his friends.

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Only lately has he gone into the business of casting.

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Outdoors or indoors...

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He lets us in.

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Have they been in that tub since they were small?

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For a few years, Ryan has brought a couple of friends roadtripping across America. To stop at various locations to snap random and unplanned pictures. Nudity may only be part of his method to allow what's within to be unclothed and captured on film.

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Finally we arrive at Moonmilk, McGinley's most recent collection shot in different caves, none repeated.

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The artist admits that this has been his most ambitious and excruciating project.

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"Moon milk" is an iridescent crystallized substance that one finds in caves. His images also come as strange and almost alien.

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The rock formations have been untouched for thousands of years. It makes sense to take pictures that bring us back to the primordial. To the genesis or the fountain or the source of the substance of youth in McGinley's images.

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The scene for darkness unravelled by the colors of long exposures.

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Of total abandon. Returning to the border, the crevice, between language and intelligibility, and the ignorance of perpetual silence.

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Moonmilk is the scene for youth's ecstacy.

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Strangely, this image of a boy and a grizzly bear reminds me of Gus van Sant's Elephant, a movie about a school shooting. This image provides a counterpoint, the separation and interaction between the innocent and the brutal: the balance.

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Designers like Hedi Slimane have provided images of men on the edge of innocence, pushing a new aesthetic. Photographers like McGinley provide the same thing.

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He plays with boundaries, ridicules standards.

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While staying within them.

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"We are animals" is a Wrangler campaign shot by Ryan.

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Quite apt, you may say.

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It amplifies the youth's inability to project pathos or inherit their parents' guilt.

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Yes, soon enough everybody grows up.

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Not just McGinley's friends and models.

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But also he himself, and with him, his aesthetic.

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Yet always, at any age, at any era, we return to the bars, the fields, the caves, and trees of youth that adults are quick to dismiss as "wasted".

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Nevertheless, fashion brands will always exploit it for its trends.

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Youth will always be fun, uninhibited, and innocent.

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As long as new generations inherit the mantle of being young.

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As there will always be a market for sneakers, McGinley's images are timeless.

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Less stylized than Hedi Slimane's, they are more raw.

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While looking less naive.

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More intent, more naked.

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And here is McGinley taken by Slimane.

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Naked in a tub shot by Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs.

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Yes, many may dismiss McGinley's work as pretentious and plastic — easily adaptable by fashion brands because of their intentional lack of depth.

But isn't that what happens to all our pictures once our memories fade and all we have are images to remind us how beautiful life once was?

Most images sourced from


nan said...

hey miguel, i sent you an email bout this post. pls check it out :)

Prasoon Joshi said...

I loved the raw appeal in the pictures.